by Jamison Maeda
Numbering as many as 5 million in the early 20th century, the population of the majestic African elephant has been reduced to only a few hundred thousand due to the demand for ivory by the world’s nouveau riche. It is estimated that 100 elephants are brutally killed each day by poachers.
But last week, China announced a ban on its ivory trade by the end of 2017. This is a cause for excitement for animal activists around the globe.
“It’s a game-changer, and could be the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction,” says Elly Pepper, of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York. “…ending the legal ivory trade in China, the world’s largest consumer of elephant ivory, is critical to saving the species.”
Conservation group WWF also welcomed China’s announcement as a signal of the end to the world’s primary legal ivory market,and a “major boost to international efforts to tackle the elephant poaching crisis…”
China at over one billion people is the most populous nation, and its ivory market is the largest in the world. The United States, the second largest ivory market, enacted a near-total ban on commercial trade in ivory in June of 2016. Some states, like California, New York, New Jersey, and Washington have enacted even stronger ivory bans.
Chinese film star Li Bingbing and former basketball player Yao Ming are strong influences in China’s animal activism movement, urging millennials to boycott ivory. They’ve spread their message about ending ivory consumption across Asian social media and television. Yao Ming was recently involved in the documentary “Saving Africa’s Giants” about the cruelty of the poaching industry and a few years ago was integral to helping end the cruel tradition of shark fin soup.
But animal advocates face fierce opposition from the NRA, America’s National Rifle Association, who want to preserve the right of wealthy Americans to hunt elephants and bring ivory trophies back to the US. The NRA urged its supporters to contact their elected representatives in support of legislation that would halt the ban on the ivory trade.
Though ivory bans in China and the US are indeed cause for celebration, the fight is not over. Much of the ivory business will now take place outside of the law or simply move to Hong Kong. We have to remain vigilant, and continue to pressure global governments to increase conservation, to control the smuggling of wild animal products, and increase education about animal cruelty. Hong Kong is on track to eliminate its own ivory trade by 2021. We must make that happen before then, and before wild elephants are poached to extinction.