Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

China crushes tons of illegal ivory

By Sophie Brown and Susan Wang, for CNN
updated 9:26 AM EST, Mon January 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China crushed 6.15 tons from its stockpile of confiscated elephant ivory
  • China accounts for 70% of the world's ivory market
  • The event comes two months after the U.S. destroyed its own stockpile
  • Animal welfare groups welcomed the move as a first step to combat wildlife trafficking

(CNN) -- China is cracking down on the illegal ivory trade.

Several tons of confiscated elephant tusks and carvings were crushed in a ceremony in the city of Guangzhou on Monday -- just two months after the United States destroyed its own ivory stockpile.

Conservationists have welcomed the move as a monumental shift in the government's approach to the ivory trade, and a crucial first step for China -- the world's largest ivory market -- to tackle illicit wildlife trafficking.

Some 6.15 tons of ivory were destroyed on Monday -- equivalent to one-sixth of the illegal ivory confiscated worldwide in 2012 -- according to May Mei, the Chinese chief representative of wildlife protection group, WildAid, who attended the ceremony.

Chasing elephant poachers in Congo
Is elephant ivory funding terrorism?

It's the first time China, which accounts for around 70% of global demand for ivory, has destroyed any of its stockpile.

The fact that China is taking a public stance against the practice is an encouraging sign, says Jeff He, special assistant to the Asia Regional Director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

"With the government taking such a symbolic action, it sends out a very strong message to the potential consumers that the government won't allow any illegal trade in ivory," he said.

Ivory is known as "white gold" in China and tusks with intricate carvings can fetch almost $3,000 per kilogram on the black market. One of the biggest challenges remains dampening demand among consumers, say animal welfare campaigners.

According to a 2013 WildAid report, many Chinese residents have little awareness of how ivory sales contribute to the poaching that has caused the world's elephant population to dwindle in recent years.

"This event in itself is not going to solve these issues," said Joe Waltson, Asia Program Director at the Wildlife Conservation Society, "but that doesn't mean it doesn't have any value."

"It needs to be welcomed, if only to embolden those within the Chinese government who are pushing for more substantive action on this issue," Waltson said.

"It could really have an impact on the conservation of African and Asian elephants."

A report released by the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species last year found that the global illegal ivory trade has tripled in the last decade, in spite of 1989-ban on the international trade of the product.

According to the IFAW's Jeff He, a rise in demand from Asia, and especially China, in recent years has fueled the black market and put increasing pressure on African elephants in the wild.

The elephant population in Africa has now shrunk to around half a million, from 1.2 million in 1980. Nearly one hundred African elephants are killed for their tusks every day, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

To help wipe out the demand for ivory, conservation groups have called on governments to destroy confiscated ivory stockpiles, which often require substantial resources to keep secure.

On November 15, the U.S. destroyed its entire 6-ton stockpile of ivory "to send a clear message that the United States will not tolerate ivory trafficking and the toll it is taking on elephant populations, particularly in Africa." Similar events have taken place in the Philippines, Gabon, and Kenya in the last three years.

READ: Elephant poachers become the prey

READ: Hong Kong's seized ivory stockpile an elephant-sized headache

READ: U.S. destroys tons of elephant ivory; offers $1 million bounty on traffickers

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
updated 3:07 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT