OPINION: China Announces One-Year Ban on Imports of African Ivory Carvings


By Patrick Bergin

On February 26, China’s State Forestry Administration announced on its website it was imposing a one-year ban on all imports of African ivory carvings. According to an unnamed forestry official, the suspension of ivory imports would allow authorities to evaluate the ban’s effectiveness in stemming elephant poaching in Africa. Because the ban was limited in scope, too brief in its temporal application, and fell far short of banning all domestic ivory trade in China, it was largely viewed by the conservation community as a symbolic plaster applied to a gushing wound.

Even if the ivory ban was largely symbolic, symbolism has its place too. It can prove an effective tool by way of drawing attention to a problem in desperate need of a solution. Consider the destruction of ivory stockpiles, which have taken place from Denver, Colorado in the United States to the city of Dongguan in China’s Guangdong Province. These acts were largely symbolic if you consider that destroying stockpiles won’t better equip and train Africa’s rangers nor arrest, prosecute, convict and punish the kingpins and middlemen behind the illicit ivory trade. But, like the first ever ivory burn in Kenya in 1989, these public acts draw the crisis out of the shadows and train national and international attention on the issue. So it is with China’s ivory import ban. Its existence is an acknowledgement by the Chinese government that ivory consumption and elephant poaching are linked. Whether intentional or not, that very important message is now being conveyed to the larger Chinese public. Even though the ban will only impact a handful of travelers seeking to import their ivory purchases from abroad, these travelers comprise an important segment of society that need to hear that message.

The ban, however, is not the only encouraging step the Chinese —> Read More