For the first time ever, China has committed to phasing out its legal ivory industry, The Guardian reports. At an event this past week, workers destroyed 662kg of confiscated ivory in a symbolic gesture of the country's commitment to fighting African elephant poaching. China hopes to eventually end the domestic manufacturing and sale of ivory in the country.
"We will strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted," Zhao Shucong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, reportedly said at the event.
China hasn't laid out a timeline yet
This move follows China's decision earlier this year to impose a one-year ban on ivory imports in an effort to reduce illegal trading. Since 1989's international ivory trade ban, China has seized around 90,600 pounds of ivory, according to National Geographic.
At the event, Zhao outlined a 10-point plan to fight poaching, including stricter policing of wildlife trade online and offline, and running campaigns to discourage public demand, The Guardian reports. A report this April found more than 500 instances of illegal ivory for sale online over a four-day period on Craigslist alone.
As much as 70 percent of the world's illegal ivory goes to China, where it is seen as a status symbol for a rising middle class, according to a report in The New York Times. The demand for ivory in China is high, so part of phasing out the industry will have to include lowering consumer demand. A recent survey by the anti-trafficking group WildAid found 95 percent of respondents in China's three largest cities — Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou — support an end to the country's ivory industry.
China hopes a reduction in the legal ivory market will also decrease black market demand. But John Scanlon, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), said that while China's decision is promising, the black market still remains a big driver of elephant poaching, which he called "one of the most destructive forms of wildlife crime."
A timeline for the phase-out has not yet been set.