What Does the China Ban Mean for Elephants?
For China’s ban to work, the laws must be enforced, and raising awareness about the ban and reducing demand for ivory are also critical. Following the ban, surveys showed a clear trend in the reduction of demand, with far more people in China saying they wouldn’t buy ivory than before the ban. It was crucial that neighbouring countries follow suit and shut down markets across Asia, but tragically that did not happen. Illegal ivory trade continued, with new hubs expanding in Japan (the largest remaining legal ivory market), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar. While poaching levels have declined from those of 5-10 years ago, it remains a major threat to elephants’ survival.
It is still too soon to know the full impact of the China ban, but the effects of closing down demand from the world’s biggest ivory consumer shouldn’t be underestimated. If that were the only threat elephants had to face, maybe they’d stand a chance. But today elephants face many other threats to their survival, which are even more devastating and difficult to control as they grow more severe: loss and fragmentation of habitat and migration routes, escalating conflict with humans at every turn, and the calamitous effects of climate change, including diminishing food sources and severe droughts. And though elephants’ tusks may be less in demand by poachers, a whole new industry is thriving in products made from elephant skin, hair, and other body parts.
Additionally, the leaders of the southern African elephant-range states try to manage their elephant populations by different means, most of which are focused on monetizing elephants (through trophy hunting fees, attempts to sell them abroad, despite it being illegal, selling their ivory) or using them for political benefit (such as killing what the government may label as a ‘problem elephant’ to gain rural votes), rather than investing in long-term sustainable solutions that benefit both elephants and communities. They tend to resent westerners and NGOs ‘interfering’ in such management and have threatened to leave CITES if they’re not allowed to sell their huge ivory stockpiles. In May 2022 they signed the Hwange Declaration calling to lift the ban on trade.