A week after China announced a one-year ban on imports of carved ivory products from Africa, local conservationists say the largely symbolic move is not enough to stop poaching in countries like Kenya.
The Chinese administration said it would not handle any ivory import requests for the next year and further warned its citizens not to bring back ivory from abroad.
Nairobi-based African Wildlife Foundation says while the ban signifies Chinese government’s acknowledgement of link between ivory trade and elephant poaching, stronger action is needed.
“We certainly welcome this positive step, as it is further acknowledgement by the Chinese government of the link between owning or gifting ivory products and elephant poaching in Africa,” says AWF CEO Dr Patrick Bergin. “As a next step, we would ask China to consider an outright ban on all ivory trade in the country. It is the legal trade in China that shields the black market trade and complicates law enforcement efforts.”
Before last week’s ban, Chinese returning from Africa with carvings could apply for a permit to bring the ivory into the country legally.
Some of them have been intercepted at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airports and charged under Kenya’s harsh wildlife crimes law.
But the Chinese State Forestry Administration said it will now no longer issue those permits.
“In many ways the ivory import ban reinforces the message of our public awareness campaign by warning consumers not to buy ivory given the deadly consequences,” says Bergin, in a statement. “We need the help and cooperation of the Chinese government and Chinese citizens if we are going to save Africa’s elephants.”
AWF and its partners WildAid and Save The Elephants have been targeting many of the same ivory consumers through a widespread public awareness campaign and via targeted public service announcements (PSAs). The PSAs feature celebrities such as former NBA star Yao Ming and Chinese film icon Li Bingbing, who disseminate the message that when the buying stops, the killing can too.
The Chinese move came before President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to 15 tonnes of elephant ivory on Tuesday. The ivory, with a black market value of Sh2.7 billion, is the largest consignment to be destroyed in Kenya.
“Many of these tusks belonged to elephants which were wantonly slaughtered by criminals,” Uhuru said at the ceremony in Nairobi National Park.
Elephant ivory is often smuggled to Asia for use in ornaments.