For Grace Ge Gabriel, this is a moment she's been hoping to see for 10 years. As Asia's regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Gabriel has been instrumental in pushing China's government to halt harmful ivory trading practices that devastate elephants. On Friday, China announced it was on track to end its domestic ivory trade completely by the end of December.
"I've been working for the past 10 years to get to this point," Gabriel told A Plus in a phone interview. "President Xi shook hands with President Obama in 2015 and agreed that both countries would shut down their ivory markets, and China is fulfilling its promise."
Earlier this month, A Plus reported on how endangered elephants were being protected across Africa by armed envoys. Groups like The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust are operating 10 such anti-poaching teams in Kenya alone. But China's move to stop ivory trade does something that may be even more impactful: it reduces demand for the ivory in the first place.
At the end of 2011, Gabriel and officials at the IFAW saw the first real dip in ivory sales when they urged the Chinese government to ban the auction of ivory, rhino horn and tiger bone. The ban resulted in a 90 percent reduction of ivory auction sales in China and in the five years since elephant poaching in Africa has been on a steady decline. Gabriel says this was the beginning of the good news — and the momentum has been strong since.
Last year, the China State Council issued a notice saying it would phase out all commercial ivory trade in two stages by the end of 2017. In March, Gabriel said, they closed a third of all ivory carving factories and retail outlets. IFAW completed a market investigation in several major cities in China and found incredible results: not only was there a reduction in the presence of ivory, they couldn't find any new ivory coming into the market.
"I think China has realized its role in elephant poaching," she said. "By having a legal market which provides opportunities for criminals to launder, even though they killed elephants for ivory... it gives consumers the wrong impression."
Perhaps most importantly, the shift in China's policy could lead to a larger, more impactful global shift. In the United Kingdom, an evaluation is now underway for a similar ivory ban. Australia and the EU are considering sweeping bans. In the United States, five or six states have already implemented a ban. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump reversed a decision to lift the Obama-era ban on importing big game hunting trophies after a public outcry across the country.
"I am actually very, very optimistic," Gabriel said. "I haven't felt this optimistic about elephants for a long time. It's a good indication that politicians are coming to the recognition that ivory trade anywhere threatens elephants everywhere."
Cover photo: Shutterstock / jo Crebbin