Thanks Again, China

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It is always worth celebrating when China takes action against elephant poaching. Let’s hope one or more of these numerous actions has an impact. We are happy to read this news, and the hope trudges on:

On the last day of March, the State Forestry Administration, the Chinese agency that monitors the trade in elephant ivory, closed sixty-seven ivory factories and retail outlets across the country.This was the first phase of a larger plan—announced by the government of China, without fanfare, on December 30, 2016—to end the legal trade of elephant ivory within the nation altogether and thus to close the world’s largest elephant-ivory market. (By some estimates, China accounts for seventy per cent of the market for illegal ivory poached in Africa.) Under the government’s plan, the remaining ivory factories and outlets will be shuttered by the end of 2017.

Inside Africa, the effort to control the massacre of elephants has devolved into an escalating war between poachers—who are increasingly well armed and often tied to criminal syndicates—and conservationists, who, in defense of elephants, routinely deploy mercenaries, automatic weapons, advanced intelligence-gathering techniques, drones, and sniffer dogs. For all these efforts, the over-all situation of elephants has steadily worsened. In August of last year, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Foundation released the results of its Great Elephant Census, which found that the numbers of Africa’s savanna elephants had declined by almost a third between 2007 and 2014, and that only some three hundred and fifty thousand remain. Forest elephants, Africa’s other elephant species, are in even worse shape, with perhaps only eighty thousand remaining. Many people began to talk about regional extinction.

While efforts to control poaching within Africa are fundamental to preserving the species, conservationists increasingly agree that the only real way to defeat the massacre of elephants is to control demand. This has proved difficult because China, the end market of most illegal ivory, has been, until recently, reluctant to restrain its domestic ivory market.

In 2007, in the early years of the ivory boom, China listed ivory carving as an “intangible cultural heritage.” Ivory ownership became an important status symbol for the new middle class. (As the journalist and activist Hongxiang Huang explained, “If you owned an ivory piece, you’d really arrived.”) In subsequent years, the price of ivory soared, reaching twenty-one hundred dollars per kilogram, in 2014. But as prices rose the market changed. Daniel Stiles, an ivory analyst, believes that, in recent years, the ivory market in China has been driven not by the upwardly mobile middle class but by speculators betting on the extinction of elephants, which would drive prices still higher.

But, in those same years, China, too, has changed. Xi Jinping, confirmed as President in early 2013, speaks less about ivory as an intangible cultural heritage than about his ambition for China to become an “ecological civilization.” The rapacity of China’s ivory merchants and the poaching industry they supported were giving the country a bad name. Perhaps especially embarrassing was a report that, during Xi’s inaugural trip to Africa, in 2013, his political and business entourage took advantage of their diplomatic status to load his plane down with thousands of kilograms of illegal ivory…

Read the whole story here.

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