BEIJING • China will ban all trade in ivory by the end of this year, a move that would shut down the world's largest ivory market and could deal a critical blow to elephant poaching in Africa.
The decision by China follows years of growing international and domestic pressure and gives wildlife protection advocates hope that the threatened extinction of certain elephant populations in Africa can be averted.
"China's announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation," said Mr Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund.
"With the United States also ending its domestic ivory trade earlier (last) year, two of the largest ivory markets have taken action that will reverberate around the world."
According to some estimates, more than 100,000 elephants have been wiped out in Africa over the past 10 years in a ruthless scramble for ivory driven by Chinese demand. Some Chinese investors call ivory "white gold", while carvers and collectors call it the "organic gemstone".
Ms Elly Pepper, a wildlife advocate with the Natural Resources Defence Council, which is based in New York, wrote that China's announcement "may be the biggest sign of hope for elephants since the current poaching crisis began".
Wildlife advocates have said for years that the most important step in putting poachers out of business would be shutting down the ivory industry in China.
But the success of the new policy depends on how strictly it is enforced. Wildlife researchers estimate that 50 per cent to 70 per cent of all smuggled elephant ivory - maybe even more - ends up in China, where there are countless ivory workshops and showrooms.
In the announcement, the State Council, China's Cabinet, said the shutdown of the market, which includes all processing and sales, would occur in phases throughout the year.
In the first step, a designated group of legal ivory processing factories and businesses will be forced to close by March 31.
The Ministry of Culture will assist in the transition of legal ivory into use in museums and other cultural sites. It will also help workers in the industry, including master carvers, find related jobs.
Under the new rules, people who own ivory products can keep them or give them as gifts, and owners can sell them at supervised auctions after getting official approval.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora banned the ivory trade in 1989.
NEW YORK TIMES,