Born Free USA Blog
by Adam M Roberts,
Chief Executive Officer
When it comes to animals, Adam Roberts not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. Since beginning his animal advocacy career in Washington, D.C. in 1991, Adam's ambition, tireless involvement, and profound knowledge of conservation and wildlife issues have cemented him as a go-to voice for protecting animals — and he has elevated Born Free USA to the respected and impactful organization that we know today. Adam's compassionate, informed, and forward-thinking blogs will surely motivate you to join us in our fight to Keep Wildlife in the Wild.
If the bloody ivory trade is to end, it will require the unwavering commitment of governments around the world. So, I’m thrilled that the most notorious ivory-consuming country has taken a public stand against elephant poaching… but is there more to do?
In a historic display, China has, for the first time, destroyed a stockpile of more than six tons of confiscated elephant ivory. This event followed in the example of Gabon, Kenya, the Philippines, and, most recently, the U.S. In November, the U.S. pulverized nearly six tons of seized ivory: an unequivocal message to the world that the ivory trade will not be tolerated and that seized ivory should be permanently removed from the marketplace.
China holds the sad distinction of being the largest market for ivory in the world – and pushing international treaty organizations such as CITES to allow directed ivory stockpile sales from African nations into China. In fact, the demand for ivory from the Chinese market, especially in the past few years, is responsible for fueling a poaching crisis of record proportions, with an estimated 35,000 to perhaps as many as 50,000 elephants poached annually.
In China, ivory is valued as a marker of wealth and status—and, with increasing affluence among its citizens, the opportunity to acquire ivory is now within reach for a growing number of people. Couple that with the financially lucrative nature of the ivory trade and poor enforcement of poaching laws, and we’re left with a cataclysmic sentence for elephants on our bloody hands.
The Chinese government has now held a widely publicized ivory crush, attended by some nongovernmental organization representatives, foreign diplomats, state officials, and, of course, media. Supporters hope that the crush will raise awareness of the cruel ivory trade among the Chinese and beyond.
But given China’s penchant for ivory and its pivotal role in the ivory trade, is this little more than a symbolic move?
An ivory crush in China is meaningless if it is not accompanied by a rejection of legal ivory sales and eradication of the domestic ivory markets in China – markets that fuel demand and, therefore, poaching. Chinese demand for ivory continues to drive a substantial portion of the world’s elephant slaughter, and only a small, emblematic percentage of China’s stockpiled ivory—six tons of an estimated 45—was actually destroyed. This ivory crush represents a noble beginning, but it alone will not solve the wildlife trafficking crisis in China.
Somehow, China must shift its public perception of ivory as a coveted indicator of affluence. As long as ivory ownership equates with socioeconomic desirability, elephant poaching will continue. We must reduce this demand. As Born Free USA’s Adam Roberts recently stated in this piece about the ivory trade, giving a value to ivory makes it acceptable; making it acceptable makes it marketable; making it marketable makes it profitable; making it profitable means slaughtered elephants.
I truly applaud China for its ceremonious destruction of tusks and trinkets. But, for a country that leads the world’s drive for ivory, China must do more than merely follow suit; it must become a definitive leader in banishing the ivory trade. Here’s to China’s first step in setting a compassionate example for its people—and for the world.