BEIJING (AFP) – Beijing has imposed a one-year ban on imports of ivory carvings as critics say rising Chinese demand threatens African elephants with extinction, but campaigners described the move as “more symbolic than effective” Friday.
The measure came days ahead of a visit to China by Britain’s Prince William, who has campaigned against illegal wildlife trafficking and is expected to speak on the issue during a stop in the southwestern province of Yunnan next Wednesday.
The ban took effect Thursday and was announced by China’s State Forestry Administration in a statement on its website.
China is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), but conservationists say it is the world’s largest consumer of illegal ivory, with skyrocketing demand leading to the slaughter of tens of thousands of African elephants each year.
Sammi Li, a spokeswoman for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, welcomed the import ban as sending a message and “recognition by China of their role in the illegal ivory trade”.
But she told AFP, “The actual volume to be banned is rather small, so the ban is more symbolic than effective.”
Most illegal ivory is smuggled raw, and China has a significant domestic processing industry.
The country has a long tradition of ivory carving and regulated sales are legal, while Chinese collectors see the items as a valuable investment.
The raw material is often intricately carved to depict anything from devotional Buddhist scenes to wildlife and bizarre fantasies. It is also turned into the seals or “chops” used to sign documents, and more mundane household objects such as chopsticks.