China will ban domestic ivory trade within a year, the country's government revealed on Friday, Dec. 30.
The decision essentially closes the door to the biggest end-market for poached ivory, a move that brings hope that the looming extinction of elephants in Africa may still be averted.
The State Council said that the country will enforce the complete ban by Dec. 31, 2017. A first batch of factories and shops, however, are set to close and surrender their licenses earlier by March 31, 2017.
Illegal Ivory In Legal Market
The problem with the country's legal ivory market is that it served as a means for businesses to launder illegal ivory into the market. A report published by the National Geographic in January 2016 showed that while the stockpile of legal ivory is around 40 metric tons, the amount of illegal stocks that are often obscured because of legal trade is about 25 times larger.
"Closing the world's largest legal ivory market will deter people in China and beyond from buying ivory and make it harder for ivory traffickers to sell their illegal stocks," said WWF-China CEO Lo Sze Ping.
Conservation groups including the WWF applauded the decision, saying that the move underlines the government's determination and leadership in reducing the demand for ivory, which can help save elephant populations in Africa.
Declining Elephant Population Due To Poaching
The Great Elephant Census, a survey of African elephants conducted over a period of three years, showed that the population of the animals has experienced a drastic loss. Researchers found that the number of elephants dropped by nearly 30 percent within a period of just seven years between 2007 and 2014.
The rapid decline is blamed on poaching. The WWF said that about 20,000 elephants are slaughtered each year. The elephant is now officially listed as a vulnerable species numbering only about 415,000. In the early 20th century, the population of elephants was between 3 to 5 million.
Protecting Workers In The Ivory Industry
China said that it will step up efforts to shut down illegal trade, including a crackdown on ivory smuggling in physical markets and online. It also has plans in place for those who will be affected by the ban.
To protect the livelihood of workers in the ivory industry, China's Natural Resources Defense Council said that the workers, which include artisans and ivory carvers, will be transitioned for work in other related fields such as in the restoration of ivory artifacts in museums.
Those whose ivory products had been obtained through legal means may apply for certification and continue to display them in museums and exhibitions.