4 min read

YES: China Just Closed Its Last Ivory Shops

"No other country should have any excuse to drag their feet."

This year is already promising to be a great year for elephants.

On December 31, 2017, the last commercial ivory carving factories and shops closed their doors in China. Any that remain open are now operating illegally.

Animal lovers have been eagerly awaiting this moment. Last year, the Chinese government pledged to shut down the country’s domestic ivory market, a move that promised to save thousands of wild elephants from being killed by poachers for their ivory. Following this announcement, 67 legal ivory factories and retail shops shut down in China on March 31, 2017, and the remaining 105 closed this past week.

Stockpile of seized ivory
A stockpile of seized ivory | Brent Ng/HSI

“The closure of China’s ivory market is a historic milestone in the effort to save elephants,” Iris Ho, wildlife program manager for Humane Society International (HSI), said in a statement. “When China, the world’s largest ivory market and a country that once designated ivory carving as an intangible cultural tradition, can resoundingly reject the ivory trade, no other country should have any excuse to drag their feet on banning this pernicious trade.”

While animal lovers and conservationists are celebrating, many have remained on guard about the future.

A piece of seized ivory
A piece of carved ivory that was sold illegally | Brent Ng/HSI

“Without teeth, any law could be broken and any ban, even in the world’s biggest ivory consuming country, in isolation won’t secure a long-term future for elephants,” Rob Brandford, executive director of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), said in a statement. “Additionally we must be extremely mindful of any illegal trade moving to countries neighboring China, noticeably Vietnam and Thailand, as what is critical is that we end all trade and we cannot afford for criminal syndicates involved in ivory to simply move their operations to other countries with more open rules on the sale of ivory.”

“This law should, however, shut the door on the ability to buy ivory and, as such, make it harder for illegal ivory to be filtered into the market,” Brandford added. “So there’s no doubt that it could help reduce the poaching of Africa’s elephants. As long-living and slow-reproducing animals, elephants need a reprieve from poaching so that numbers can recover so this is a positive step forward.”

Wild elephants walking through the forest
Vanessa Mignon

Only time will tell how this ban will affect wild elephant populations in Africa. But many animal advocates believe that China’s move is an important one — and it will hopefully change elephants’ lives for the better.

To help protect elephants whose families have been killed by poachers, you can make a donation to DSWT or HSI.