The rampant trade of ivory in Asia is driving African elephants towards extinction. With the largest population in the world, China is also known to be the biggest market for ivory trade.
In East Asia, ivory crafts have long been highly regarded, as they represent wealth and nobleness. However, since China joined the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species in 1990, purchasing ivory has been discouraged.
“International trade of ivory is illegal and China has been improving public awareness of this. We have put up signs at international airports to warn against the buying and trading of ivory products. Our embassies in African countries also send text messages to visiting Chinese tourists to remind them not to bring home any ivory crafts,” Jiang Zhigang, researcher with Chinese Academy Of Social Sciences, said.
During Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Kenya in May, he vowed to continue to strengthen cooperation with African countries to protect wildlife and fight against ivory smuggling. Earlier this year, China destroyed over six tons of confiscated ivory. And since 2012, it has captured nearly 400 criminal suspects in over 1300 smuggling cases.
“We have very strict law enforcement against ivory smuggling compared to many other countries. In China smugglers are not only fined but also will be given sentence terms and in extreme cases even sentenced for life. However China must work with other countries and stop the trade from the source. Poaching in many cases is caused by severe poverty, and the punishment is too light in some African countries. Suspects will be fined for a few dollars and released the next day,” Jiang said.
But not all ivory trade in China is illegal. In 2007, the Convention approved a stockpile sale and allowed China to join Japan in becoming a trading partner. China gained 62 tons of ivory, and was able to legally sell it for ten years until 2017.
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