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China Poised to Close Ivory Factories

China is preparing to shut down ivory factories Friday. It is the first phase of the government’s plan to end all domestic ivory trade this year. Kenyan conservation group Save the Elephants says that commitment has already had some impact. 

Save the Elephants says the wholesale price of ivory in China dropped up to 60 percent in the last three years. The Nairobi-based conservation group says in 2014 a tusk sold wholesale for $2,100 per kilogram. In February of this year, an ivory tusk was sold at $700 per kilogram.

Save the Elephants researcher Esmond Martin did the study, which was released Wednesday in Nairobi.

“The government of China announced in December last year, 2016, it was going to close down the ivory factories, the legal ones and illegal shops,” Martin said. “So what we found was many of the shops are now, are diversifying, getting out of ivory, moving into other materials.”

Ivory sellers clearing stocks

He says raw ivory sellers have been racing against time and offering lower prices to sell off their remaining stocks.

Ivory seals, jewelry and trinkets are popular in China. According to the global monitoring system known as the Elephants Trade Information System (ETIS), China is by far the largest importer and consumer of ivory in the world.

But the founder of Save the Elephants, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, says public education campaigns in China are starting to bear fruit.

“If you go back beyond that five years ago, 10 years ago, people in China were unaware that if they bought ivory, it would cause the killing of the elephants,” Douglas-Hamilton said. “And it’s been a lot of campaigning with Chinese celebrities, in which the Save the Elephants have taken part, to change that mindset.”

Elephants killed by thousands

Tens of thousands of elephants have been killed in recent years for their tusks. The recent Great Elephant Census showed a 30 percent decline in African savanna elephants between 2007 and 2014.

China’s decision to ban domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017 was hailed by conservationists. Whether the new policy will help reduce poaching remains to be seen. Martin says China must also crack down on illegal trade.

“There are over a million Chinese living in Africa, and they are buying a lot of ivory retail from big markets in Luanda, in Lagos, in Cairo, and in Khartoum and other places,” Martin said. “And 90 percent of the buyers are sending it back to China, and they are also buying ivory which is much cheaper from their neighboring countries such a Vietnam, Laos and Burma.”

Last year, Save the Elephants released a report that Chinese ivory buyers are purchasing the product in Vietnam. The group noted in the last decade, the number of ivory items for sale in Vietnam had increased by more than six times.