China's actions, more than those of any other country, have the potential to reverse the rising trends of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trafficking.
The ivory trade is currently driving the mass slaughter of an estimated 35,000 elephants across Africa including in many protected areas - as described in our wildlife blog published on The Ecologist today. These majestic animals are extinct or endangered in much of their original range.
Meanwhile China is the world's biggest market for ivory and ivory products, importing - according to the Elephant Action League - "tens of tonnes" of ivory each year.
The group also points out that the ivory destroyed in China today - at a public ceremony in the city of Dongguan, near Guangzhou - represents "only a fraction" of its total holdings, derived from customs seizures.
"We think that this ceremony is just a public relation exercise to ease the pressure from the international community", says EAL's director Andrea Crosta.
He believes that the top priority must be to crack down on the illegal traffic inside China: "Chinese authorities must admit that the current monitoring system is not working and it even facilitates the laundering of the illegal ivory. The current system is a heaven for criminals, the mafia and illegal traders."
But Tom Milliken, ivory trade expert with the anti-wildlife trade body TRAFFIC, thinks that China is taking the problem seriously. "The destruction of seized ivory makes an important public statement that, in conjunction with other government-led efforts to reduce demand, has the potential to have a significant impact on the illegal market for ivory", he said.
He adds that China is also clamping down hard on wildlife criminals at home. Eight Chinese citizens were recently convicted and sentenced to 3 to 15 years imprisonment for smuggling a total of 3.2 tonnes of ivory. "China's actions, more than those of any other country, have the potential to reverse the rising trends of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trafficking."
Fan Zhiyong, Head of WWF-China's Species Programme said: "WWF believes that destroying seized ivory is a signal of the government's commitment to enhance law enforcement against illegal ivory trade that will support international action against elephant poaching and illegal wildlife trade."
Government officials, together with observers including representatives from several embassies in China, CITES, United Nations Environment Programme China Office, IUCN China office, and international non-governmental organizations including WWF and TRAFFIC, attended the ivory crushing ceremony earlier today.
Gabon, the Philippines and the United States have all recently destroyed ivory stockpiles, while France has also signalled its intention to do so.