A Ban on Commercial Ivory Trade in China: A Feasibility Study Briefing
Xu Yang, Xiao Yu, Guan Jing and Wilson Lau
September 2016

WWf and trAffic believe that an ivory trade ban in china is feasible and could be effective in contributing to a reduction in current threats to African elephants. Such an ambitious and achievable act could garner positive exposure for china’s responsible action on a critical wildlife conservation issue and become a positive influence on other countries efforts to tackle the illicit ivory trade. WWf and trAffic would support an ivory trade ban by the chinese government and stand ready to assist in its implementation and help evaluate future impacts of such a ban in china and around the world.


Africa’s elephants are in crisis. The population of African elephants today are at a record low, with fewer than 500,000 individuals left in the wild, declining from 1.2 million individuals in 1981. The contemporary poaching crisis consolidated in 2010 and since then elephant poaching has escalated to unsustainable levels, leading to a year- on-year decline in many elephant populations1.  In some parts of Africa, localised extinctions of elephants are actually occurring. The illegal ivory trade is persistent and increasingly well-organised. Reports based on ivory seizures indicate that the volume of illegal ivory trade has tripled since 20072.

Meanwhile, the African elephant crisis has stirred the attention of the international community, which in turn has recognized that an historic opportunity to take actions to save Africa’s most iconic species is at hand. This sense of commitment has resonated also in China. In May 2015, the head of China’s State Forestry Administration announced that “we will strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted”. In September 2015, during a State visit to the U.S., Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barrack Obama jointly committed to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory3.  Following this momentum, the Chinese government issued a temporary ban on all ivory imports for commercial purposes in March 2016.

China has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world4.  Since 2002, the reports of the Elephant Trade Information System to CITES have consistently identified China as the leading destination for ivory globally. 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 and have a significant impact on the future survival of African elephants.

Therefore, the aim of this current briefing is to provide independent advice and recommendations to the Chinese Government on a possible option that China can consider to address the global problem of illegal ivory trade – a ban on commercial ivory trade in the country. The country’s existing ivory trade controls and law enforcement system are examined, in light of the current ivory market in China, as well as the likely impact an ivory trade ban could have. In producing this briefing, WWF and TRAFFIC believe that China can be a leading global example, and provide “best practices” for creating sound policy approaches and timeframes for implementation that will maximize impact on illegal trade and enhance the conservation of elephants.

This briefing is a rapid evaluation based on existing knowledge derived from TRAFFIC’s monitoring work of the Chinese ivory market. While this is not a comprehensive study, this briefing does outline issues to take into account when examining the need, feasibility and possible implementation challenges involved when considering a ban on commercial ivory trade in China, as well as some next steps needed towards that end. An effective ivory trade ban in the Chinese context will require careful consideration of the particular regulatory mechanisms and implementation structures and processes that will define and support the new domestic policy. WWF and TRAFFIC fully intend to augment this initial briefing document with further in depth studies.

For the full article: http://awsassets.wwfcn.panda.org/downloads/wwf_traffic_china__an_act_to_save_african_elephants_3.pdf