Ivory Trade in China #2

This is the second half of a 2-part series. Click here to read from the beginning!

In March 2015, Prince William made a speech at an elephant sanctuary in China, urging Chinese president Xi Jinping to end ivory trade. There have also been many open letters from celebrities about the need for China to ban ivory trading; including one by Sir David Atenburgh.

“Whether it’s climate change or endangered species, China is vital and has the potential to do great work or do great harm.” – Iain Douglas Hamilton, Founder of Save The Elephants

In June 2016, Barack Obama installed a near total ban on domestic sales of ivory, and China followed close behind, promising to have put an end to the processing and sales of ivory for commercial purposes by the end of 2017. In March of this year, 67 carving workshops and retail stores were shut down, with a remaining 105 to close by the end of the year. Not all is lost for those unaware of the impact on elephants for their tusks, and those who practice ivory carving for the skill and tradition. The plan to phase out ivory trade also encourages ivory carvers to continue their trade using other materials.

It’s great to know such decisive action is being taken by China and the US, however the reality is that ivory trade is still an ongoing issue, especially in Asia. Hong Kong is the world’s biggest legal retail market and transit hub for elephant ivory, much of which goes to mainland China. The EU seems next in line to address its ivory problem. Over the last 10 years, Europe has legally exported more than 200,000 carvings and 564 tusks (according to CITES).

“The global shift against the trade is evident, and the EU’s failure to put its own house in order will place it in an increasingly isolated position.” – Sally Case, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation UK

Despite being quick to judge China’s law and hypocritically behind the times itself, Europe is not the main problem in the industry. According to Save The Elephants, Laos is now the fastest-growing ivory market in the world, with many ivory businesses operating from the capital city, Vientiane and in Luang Probang and Kings Romans; notorious for its gambling, prostitution and illegal endangered wildlife. The price of ivory in Laos is considerably lower than in China, so it isn’t surprising (just a little disheartening) that 80% of ivory sales are to visitors from mainland China. Most of Laos’ ivory is smuggled into the country by criminals from Vietnam and Thailand. Unfortunately, the governments in these facilitating countries appear to have no interest in turning this issue around.

What can we do to help?

In this current climate of corruption and unstoppable underground operation, even in the face of such substantial positive change, what can possibly be done to help? It seems impossible, and it would be to stop it all in one go, but there are steps everyone can take to build a better future for the elephants, and for us.

The main problem is education.

The first step is to education yourself; read up on the issue. To make a difference you must first build a basis of knowledge and the truth of the matter might just ignite the spark that pushes you to influence others too.

The UK government has recently announced plans to ban ivory trade. The UK public is being urged to share their opinion and hold the government to account. Check out the WWF website to express your views on the subject and/or sign the petition! They are pushing for a trade ban with minimal exemptions, meaning historical items such as musical instruments and museum pieces, where the trade wouldn’t be a threat to elephants, will be allowed.

The WWF are also encouraging members of the public to come forward with any information they have on suspicious activity regarding ivory trade. There is a form you can fill out online if you have something to say.

Simply sharing this story, online and by talking about it out loud, will help. The more people it reaches, the more likely it is that people will stand against the problem. If you’d like to do more, see how to get involved with organisations fighting for the same cause. There are many ways to contribute other than just donating money, so don’t be nervous about contacting an non-government organisation to see how they could use your help!

Save the Elephants is a name which popped up everywhere while I was researching this topic, and they seem to be doing a wonderful job. I’d recommend starting with them. They are based in Kenya, conducting useful activities including radio-tracking of elephants in Africa, encouraging community conservation including studies, collaring and advanced tracking. They also support the education of African children via the Support a Child campaign to enable young people to get educated on important topics like this. They have a blog and newsletter which might be of interest, and if you are in a financially secure position, and are able to donate, head over to their website and support them that way. I’m sure they are grateful for every penny!

Thank you so much for reading this far. I hope I have made the slightest difference to someone reading this, and we can fight against ivory trade together!

Ivory Carvings.jpg
Photography by Ng Han Guan, AP

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