China’s ivory trade has wreaked havoc on the elephant population. Approximately 35,000 elephants are killed annually, largely in part due to the illegal international ivory trade demanded in China primarily. The need to reduce demand for ivory is vital for stopping the endangered Asian elephant and threatened African elephant.

But it looks like we may finally be seeing a breakthrough. As China prepares to impose a domestic ban on the ivory trade, a new report reveals that the price of raw ivory is falling. This is particularly good for African elephants, who have been subject to poaching by the thousands for their tusks, which are then smuggled into China.

According to Save the Elephants researchers, while the wholesale price in early 2014 was $2,100 per kilogram, it had dropped to $730 per kilogram by last month.

“An economic slowdown has resulted in fewer people able to afford luxury goods; a crack-down on corruption is dissuading business people from buying expensive ivory items as ‘favours’ for government officials, and the Chinese government has made a strong commitment to close down the nation’s legal ivory trade,” Save the Elephants said in a statement.

In December 2016, China announced its plan to outlaw ivory sales by March, and then move onto phasing out the entire market by the end of the year. The announcement came after years of pressure from environmental groups.

“Now that three of the world’s largest domestic ivory markets – China, Hong Kong SAR and the U.S. – are being phased out, we hope that other countries will follow suit,” said Lo Sze Ping, CEO of conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature. “China and the U.S. have shown how quickly markets can be addressed and the sooner the better for Africa’s elephants.”
However, prior to the 2016 announcement, it seems the ivory market was already declining in china.
Researchers reported that legal retailers in Beijing and Shanghai had decreasing stocks and were working to expand the materials used in their products.

But some illegal traders of ivory reportedly told the researchers they weren’t too concerned about the new regulations, while others acknowledged being more savvy with their materials — hiding them in their shops, or selling them online.

The Chinese government, up until recently, promoted its ivory trade, licensing new carving factories and retailers, and calling ivory carving a part of its natural heritage. Beijing’s thriving market shutting down is certainly worthy of celebrating, but there are still black market concerns to take into consideration.

Regardless of the drop in prices and Beijing’s break from the trade, Hong Kong throws a wrench in the plan. The Chinese special administrative region has a thriving ivory market that is regulated separately from mainland China’s. There is fear that Hong Kong’s market will only explode as a response to China’s shutting down. However, Hong Kong is actually considering closing its market as well, having announced a five-year plan to phase out the trade.

“Will demand for illicit ivory items go up or down?” the Save the Elephant’s recent report states. “Will prices rise or fall? Will carvers continue to produce ivory items in larger or smaller quantities illegally?”

But while uncertainty remains regarding Hong Kong’s plans, as well as underground trade, China’s ban is a great start.

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