25 years ago, nearly a million elephants meandered around Africa’s great planes. This number was decreasing at a heavy rate, however, so the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned all trade on ivory in 1989. So… the population of elephants increased thereafter, right? Not exactly. If anything, the killing got much worse.
While the ban was well intentioned, it left a massive loophole surrounding ivory from elephants that had been poached before 1989. While it is much tricker to bring the further trading of past ivory illegal to a sudden stop, there isn’t a universal laboratory carbon dating these bones. So as long as you have a clean piece of ivory, it’s pretty easy to say the elephant was killed before 1989.
At the end of last year, China announced a decree (through the combined efforts of the Obama administration): a ban on all processing and trading ivory (ANY ivory) starting at the end of 2017. March 31 marks the end of all commercial sale, then the phasing out of all other processes follows shortly thereafter.
This change is monumental. While little elephant poaching occurs in China, it is estimated that about 70% of the world’s ivory makes it through their trade. This, in part, is because some buyers will pay as much as $1,100 per kilogram. While the Wildlife Conservation Society has made many efforts to put an end to the trading of ivory from Africa itself, all attempts have been unsuccessful. Cutting off a huge chunk of the demand will be a major step in right direction for the conservation of elephants.
We will hope that other major ivory markets (such as the United Kingdom and Vietnam) will follow suit.