The announcement marks the first high-level commitment by Xi to end ivory sales in China, the world's largest market, and follows a pledge made by Chinese officials in May to phase out the domestic legal trade, WildAid said in a statement they released immediately following the announcement. The U.S. is the world's second largest market for ivory.
While international ivory trading has been banned since 1989, the legal domestic trade of ivory in Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S. has had a hand in feeding a poaching crisis that has spiraled out of control. By the time the international ban was put in place, African elephant populations plummeted from 1.3 million in 1979 to just over 600,000 by the end of the '80s. Since January 2012 alone, more than 103,000 elephants are thought to have been slaughtered by poachers. Today, it's estimated that there are only about 450,000 wild African elephants left.
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What happened today will hopefully be the beginning of the end of a poaching crisis that, according to WildAid, has been killing 33,000 elephants each year.