ucanews.com reporter, BeijingUpdated: April 23, 2015 06:55 PM GMT
Ivory is displayed before being crushed during a public event in Dongguan, south China's Guangdong province last year (AFP Photo)
Conservation groups on Friday welcomed China’s announcement of a one-year moratorium on imports of ivory carvings, many featuring religious images, but warned an outright ban was needed to halt a recent surge in killings of African elephants.
China, the world’s biggest market for ivory, announced a surprise moratorium on imports from Thursday following rising pressure by environmental groups, and just days ahead of a visit by Great Britain’s Prince William, a high-profile campaigner against the ivory trade.
“This action shows China’s commitment to curbing the illegal trade and to protecting African elephants,” Meng Xianlin, executive director of the Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office of China, was quoted as saying by the state-run China Daily.
The ban means China has stopped issuing import licenses for carvings dated after 1975, the year a UN convention on global trade in endangered species came into effect.
But it does not affect China’s legal domestic trade which conservation groups say has led to a surge in poaching with as many as 100,000 African elephants killed in the past three years.
“The actual volume banned is rather small, so the ban is more symbolic than effective,” Zhou Fei, the head of TRAFFIC’s Beijing office, told ucanews.com. “We welcome it as yet further recognition by China of their role in the illegal ivory trade.”
China has in recent years stepped up efforts to intercept and destroy illegal ivory entering the country amid fierce criticism from conservation groups.
Last year, authorities destroyed 6.1 tonnes of illegal ivory for the first time including carved Buddha figurines.
“Large items are more religious related, mainly Buddhist,” said Zhou. “Very few [are] Christian images.”
The Philippines remains among the biggest markets for Catholic carvings made of illegal ivory prompting criticism that The Vatican has been slow to speak out against the trade.