The ivory market is the staple financial backer of the illegal poaching industry and the primary reason for its existence. Recently, the international community has begun to ban the legal ivory market in order to reduce poaching. Continuing this trend, on December 31, 2017, the Chinese government formally began to enforce a ban on the formerly legal ivory market. The move fulfilled a promise made by Chinese officials with ex-president Barack Obama in 2015.
China is one of many states in 1989 that signed an international accord agreeing to ban the ivory trade. However, the ban only applies to ivory produced after the agreement was signed and China interpreted the ban as a selective one, classifying ivory produced before 1989 as perfectly legal and resellable. In addition, China auctions a portion of the state’s own ivory reserve to the public several times a year. Consequently, China has become a hub for the illegal laundering of ivory harvested by the poaching industry from after 1989. With little government oversight, a high demand for ivory, and a real difficulty in distinguishing between newer and older ivory, China was a major destination for ivory produced by poaching.
The new ban, enacted by the Chinese government, bans all domestic processing and selling of ivory. This means that no matter the age of the ivory, it will be illegal for any member of the Chinese public to sell ivory or process ivory products. The ban itself will also shut down all legal and licensed ivory processing businesses in China.
As China is estimated to constitute more than a third of the international demand for ivory and contain up to forty percent of the market for ivory, the ban will severely curb the international market for ivory.
However, the illegal market for ivory continues to flourish and some environmentalists believe that the ban on ivory is only a temporary fix that doesn’t address the heart of the problem: the demand for ivory. Despite the ban, ivory continues to be associated with good health and is valued as an expensive social status accessory. In fact, the price of ivory itself is still around fifteen hundred American dollars in Asia. In addition, it is likely that the laundering of ivory will simply shift to Hong Kong, which operates under its own rules and regulations and has not completely banned ivory.
“It has been observed that in China prices of ivory products have dropped considerably, and the market is already shrinking.” said Gao Yufang, a PhD student in conservation biology at Yale, according to an interview with National Geographic.
Hence, the price of ivory is actually wavering and has dropped significantly, revealing a shrinking of the ivory market. Moving forwards, the ban is an important step towards the elimination of the poaching and ivory industries. The ban will almost certainly have a positive effect in destroying the legal Chinese ivory market and adversely affect the poaching industry.
Photo Courtesy of National Geographic