Last week the Chinese government published a list of 67 licensed ivory carving factories and retailers set to close by March 31, with the balance of the other operations slated to shutter by December 31.
This is part of a rather astonishing turnaround for a nation long regarded as an outlier on animal welfare. There are movements afoot there to combat the trade in ivory, shark fins, and even dog meat. There’s even a push for meat reduction, as the government has called for a massive drop in the consumption of animal products.
On some of these fronts, China may be showing more resolve than the United States, given the regressive actions we are seeing from the new administration in Washington. In a rush of actions over the last two and a half months, our federal agencies are setting back the United States on climate change, environmental protection, wildlife protection, and other critical areas of our work.
Later this week President Trump will host President Xi Jinping of China at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. While the United States and China may have divergent views on a host of geopolitical and economic issues, there is one area that the two countries should continue to agree upon – the goal to combat wildlife trafficking. In fact, President Trump has taken a positive step in this area – issuing an Executive Order on February 9 to strengthen the enforcement of federal law on international trafficking, including the trafficking of wildlife.
For his part, President Xi is on track to shut down China’s domestic ivory market, as he promised in 2015 alongside President Obama. Without question, the closure of the world’s largest ivory market is not only a landmark victory for the elephants, but a stellar achievement of the previous administration’s diplomatic engagement with China. Last week’s closure announcement coincided with the release of a report by Save the Elephants, which documents the plummeting price of ivory in China. The report found that the wholesale price of ivory in early 2014 was $2,100 per kilogram, but that by last month, it had dropped to $730 per kilogram. Ivory dealers cannot move fast enough to get rid of their stock, but no one is buying. China is sending an unequivocal message to its citizens and the rest of the world: trading in elephant ivory is no longer acceptable because elephant ivory products represent cruel poaching, extinction, and continued fueling of dangerous transnational organized crime. As Save the Elephants president and the world’s premier elephant scientist Iain Douglas-Hamilton said, “There is still a long way to go to end the excessive killing of elephants for ivory, but there is now greater hope for the species.”
Many nations of the world are taking matters of animal welfare and conservation with a new level of seriousness, and the Trump team at the White House and within our federal agencies should take note. Over the weekend, Indonesia took on illegal fishing with the public destruction of 81 foreign vessels engaging in poaching in the country’s waters. Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago country and one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Its tough stance not only aims to protect its marine resources but also to curb transnational marine wildlife crime.
Last week, U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Cory Booker introduced legislation to ban any trade in shark fins in the United States. There was just a major bust of a shark finning operation in Florida over the weekend, so it remains an urgent concern. There’s no reason Congress and the Trump administration shouldn’t get behind that legislation and pass it with urgency. And there’s no reason for the United States to cede its leadership role on animal welfare and domestic and global conservation.