The new Chinese legislation

In December 2017, China banned all ivory processing and trade activity. This was a major stepping stone in the movement to protect elephants and a heavy blow to illegal tusk trade. China is, by far, the largest ivory market in the world, as it is estimated that the country accounts for up to 70% of the global demand for this material. According to WWF, the first step towards full banning was completed on 31 March 2017, when 143 ivory processing factories and ivory selling points were closed. The closing of these businesses continued throughout the year. Now, WWF is working to bring such legislation to neighbouring countries, in order to prevent the moving of stocks to other markets.

Other species

Ivory (also called “dentine”), which is obtained from the teeth of animals, is generally associated to elephants, but illegal trade also affects other species, such as hippopotamuses,walrus, narwhal, sperm whalesor killer whales, the latter mainly in regions such as Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. Furthermore, until recently, the trade of mammoth ivory was used to cover the smuggling of elephant tusks. For this reason, the mammoth was listed as an endangered species 4000 years after its extinction, so that mammoth ivory trade could be banned.

Walrus and its ivory tusks. Pic by tryton2011 | Shutterstock.com
Walrus and its ivory tusks. Pic by tryton2011 | Shutterstock.com

The roots of the problem

Ivory was already a highly appreciated decorative material for ancient civilisations, such as the Hebrews, the Egyptians or in Ancient Greece, where it was used to carve sculptures (two examples are the enormous sculptures of Athena and Zeus that Phidiascarved out of ivory for the Parthenon). For many centuries – especially since the colonisation of Africa – the profitability of ivoryexports lead to the barbaric slaughter of African wildlife in northern Africa, as well as in most of the south and west of the continent. Ivory was mainly used to produce decorative items, piano keys or billiard balls. In the decade from 1979 to 1989 alone, these objects caused the death of 700’000 of the 1’3 million elephants that remained in the wild.

Elephant ivory. Pic by jo Crebbin | Shutterstock.com
Elephant ivory. Pic by jo Crebbin | Shutterstock.com

CITES and species protection

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention) was founded in 1963, and it is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered animals, drafted at a meeting of members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The treaty was originally signed by 80 countries and it created a new legal framework to regulate poaching. Even so, the absence of many countries in the treaty, combined with the high illegal demand for ivory have put many species in a critical situation – and all of this purely to satisfy the decorative preferences of mankind.

Laws like the one passed in China are essential to put a halt to poaching and to conserve these species, as well as one of the last hopes of survival of some of the most magnificent living beings on our planet.

Translated by Carlos Heras

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