China's State Forestry Administration announced on its Weibo account that from today, the very last day of 2017, any transaction involving ivory, including bringing ivory from abroad into China, will be illegal. It did so using a video to remind people that China has now banned domestic ivory processing and trade.
As a part of China's efforts to reduce ivory demand and help end the global poaching crisis, the country announced in late 2016 that it would cease taking part in ivory processing and sales by March 31, 2017, and to cease all ivory processing and sales by December 31, 2017.
The poaching and smuggling of wild animals has formed a trade chain worth 20 billion US dollars, ranking fourth among illegal trade behind drug, counterfeiting and human trafficking, with a majority of the profits in the wild animal business being generated by smuggling ivory－which is so profitable that it is nicknamed "white gold".
These huge profits make ivory a key source of funding for local armed groups, who in turn make ivory poaching difficult to stop.
Poachers kill between 20,000 and 30,000 African elephants each year for their tusks, primarily to satisfy the demand for ivory products in Asia, and according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), China is a key part of this trade.
The epidemic also threatens Asian elephants as well, but on a smaller scope.
Butchered on an industrial scale for their ivory tusks, elephant numbers in Africa have been slashed from 1.3 million to just 350,000 in the past four decades.
Africa has experienced a surge in ivory poaching – the worst since 1970s and 1980s – about a decade ago.
"The beast teeters on extinction," Charlie Mayhew, founder of an elephant charity Tusk, told CGTN on Wednesday.
Communication gap between China and the world
In a study on China's ivory consumption, jointly made in 2017 by the WWF and TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, 81 percent of interviewees said they will not purchase any ivory goods, especially after the national ban.
The ivory issue went into the spotlight recently due to the story of a heroic young Chinese wildlife investigator which went viral on Chinese social media.
Huang Hongxiang, a part-time wildlife investigator and former journalist based in Nairobi, conducted undercover raids in Africa, Asia and Latin America and decided to show his face in The Ivory Game, an award-wining documentary which exposes the sinister underbelly of global ivory trafficking.
In an interview with National Geographic, Huang said that the decision to show his face was motivated by his desire to change the world's perception of China.
"Today, China is part of many global wildlife trafficking challenges," Huang said in the interview, "However, if the world sees all Chinese as bad people, it would fail to see many potential solutions."
"I've seen a huge communication gap between China and the world," he said, noting many Westerners and African people see all Chinese as ivory buyers even though the Chinese who buy ivory are only an extremely small population, and many Chinese have no idea that ivory comes from the brutal slaughter of elephants.
A previous polling by the IFAW found that 70 percent of Chinese did not realize that ivory came from dead elephants and many of them mistakenly believed that an ivory tusk is like a person's tooth and can fall out naturally.
In fact, about 30 to 40 percent of a tusk is in the face of elephants and poachers cut the elephant's face to hack the tusks out after killing them.
A big win for elephant conservation
China's historic ban has been applauded worldwide, especially by NGOs devoted to environmental and animal protection.
"None of us would have anticipated that President Xi Jinping would have moved so decisively to enact this domestic ban, so it's hugely welcome," said Mayhew.
"China's announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation," said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the WWF. "The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years, and the future is brighter for wild elephants."
China's ivory carving art form is one of the world's intangible cultural heritages as defined by the UNESCO and the country inherited the art form in a non-commercial way, but by ceasing trade in commercial ivory, China has taken responsibility in global governance, according to Li Ling, an executive project director of the WWF.