China has announced its complete ban on ivory trade has come into effect, a move hailed as a major step forward in its efforts to protect endangered species such as African elephants.
China, one of the world’s biggest markets for African ivory, announced last year that it would outlaw all domestic trade and processing by the end of 2017.
The move came after pressure from conservationists over China's vast demand for ivory – seen as a status symbol in the country –which has fuelled elephant poaching in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.
Poaching in Africa has seen the elephant population fall by 110,000 over the last 10 years to 415,000, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) made its announcement confirming the ban had come into effect on its official account on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Sunday.
“From today, the buying and selling of elephant ivory goods by any market, shop or vendor is against the law,” it said.
“From now on, if a merchant tells you, ‘This is a state-approved ivory dealer’, he is duping you and knowingly violating the law.”
It added that the ban also applied to online sales and souvenirs purchased abroad.
State news agency Xinhua said a partial ban stemming from its original announcement last year had already resulted in an 80% decline in seizures of ivory entering China.
By March 2017, it reported that 67 factories and shops involved in China’s ivory trade had closed. The SFA said the remaining 105 were expected to close on Sunday.
Responding to the announcement, Ginette Hemley, senior vice president for wildlife conservation at WWF, said the move would decrease poaching and reduce the illegal trade.
“Decades from now, we may point back to this as one of the most important days in the history of elephant conservation,” she said.
“China has followed through on a great promise it made to the world, offering hope for the future of elephants.”
An international ivory trade ban went into effect in 1990, but China continued to allow and promote ivory sales within its borders, with its legal ivory supply coming primarily from a one-time sale of ivory from a handful of African countries in 2008.
However, WWF said this legal domestic market provided the opportunity for traffickers to slip illegally obtained ivory into China’s legal supply and drive a dramatic increase in elephant poaching.
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