Dar es Salaam. China’s announcement to ban ivory trade and processing activities has been welcomed by Tanzania, hailing it as a milestone in the fight against elephant poaching.
“It is a big relief to us. We have been spending a lot of money on protecting elephants,” Natural Resources and Tourism minister Jumanne Maghembe said yesterday here. “The fact that China and Hong Kong are the major remaining markets for ivory from Tanzania, the ban is a big relief.”
However, he vowed that Tanzania would not slacken its elephant protection drive considering the fact that the ban on all ivory trade and processing activities would come into effect by the end of 2017.
Demand for ivory in China is highly blamed for increasing slaughter of elephants in Tanzania.
China state media announced on Friday that all domestic ivory trade and processing would be banned by the end of 2017.
African ivory is highly sought after in China where it is seen as a status symbol and prices for a kilo (2.2 pounds) can reach as much as $1,100 (£890).
“China will gradually stop the processing and sales of ivories for commercial purposes by the end of 2017,” the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a government statement.
The announcement follows Beijing’s move in March to widen a ban on imports of all ivory and ivory products acquired before 1975 after pressure to restrict a trade that sees thousands of elephants slaughtered every year.
Reports show that Tanzania is one of the country’s that have suffered greatly from the killing of elephants for their ivory. A government census of 2015 revealed it had lost a “catastrophic” 60 per cent of its elephants in just five years, making the country the epicentre of Africa’s elephant poaching crisis.
Following the report, pressure mounted for the government to stop a flood of poached ivory being stripped from its national parks.
Tanzania’s elephant population is one of the continent’s largest. But data released by the government in June 2015 showed that between 2009 and 2014 the number dropped from 109,051 to 43,330. When an annual birth rate of 5 per cent is taken into account the number of dead is 85,181.
According to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, demand for ivory in China is causing Tanzania to lose more jumbos to poaching than any other African country.
The London-based campaigning group says seizures show more ivory is coming from Tanzania than any other African country.
According to Xinhua, the complete ban would affect “34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues, with dozens to be closed by the end of March 2017”.
“This is great news that will shut down the world’s largest market for elephant ivory,” Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia, said in a statement.
“I am very proud of my country for showing this leadership that will help ensure that elephants have a fighting chance to beat extinction. This is a gamechanger for Africa’s elephants.”
Conservationists estimate that more than 20,000 elephants were killed for their ivory last year, with similar numbers in previous years. The WWF campaign group says 415,000 of the animals remain.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which took effect in 1975, banned the ivory trade in 1989.
Like other countries, China permits the resale of ivory bought before the 1989 ban – and also has a stockpile purchased with Cites approval in 2008, which it releases for sale with certification.
The WWF also praised China’s move to a complete ban but called on the Chinese territory of Hong Kong to bring forward a plan to end its ivory trade by 2021.
“With China’s market closed, Hong Kong can become a preferred market for traffickers to launder illegal ivory under cover of the legal ivory trade,” said Cheryl Lo, senior wildlife crime officer at the WWF.