In a historic accord to save Africa's elephants from out-of-control poaching, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping agreed Friday to work together and halt commercial ivory sales in the United States and China.
The announcement marks the first public commitment by President Xi to end the ivory trade in China, the world's largest market, and follows a pledge made by Chinese officials in May to phase out legal ivory sales.
"The United States and China commit to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timley restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory."
This puts heavy pressure on Hong Kong, a global hub for commercial ivory, to ban its legal trade, which has been responsible for the laundering of hundreds of tons of ivory from poached elephants. A recent survey found that over 90% of ivory sold in Hong Kong was being smuggled into mainland China.
"President Xi's announcement is the greatest single step that could be taken to reduce poaching for elephants," said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. "Legal ivory trade has always been used as a cover to launder poached ivory, and when it was authorized by the previous administration in China in 2009, poaching escalated dramatically in Africa. We thank both Presidents for their personal support for elephant conservation, and call upon Hong Kong to join China and the US in consigning the ivory trade to the trash can of history."
An ivory sales ban has wide support among the Chinese people. This spring, a WildAid survey conducted in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou found that 95% of respondents said that the government should impose a ban. Furthermore, public awareness of the ivory poaching crisis had increased by 50% in China since 2012.
The WildAid campaigns you support have received hundreds of millions of dollars of media space donated by Chinese state and private media. Chinese celebrities such as Yao Ming, actress Li Bingbing and piano virtuoso Lang Lang, as well as Prince William, David Beckham, Lupita Nyong'o and the cast of AMC's The Walking Dead, have all spoken out against the illegal wildlife trade as WildAid ambassadors.
And sales bans work. The international commercial ivory trade was banned in 1989, following a decade of rampant poaching that decimated African elephant populations, from 1.3 million in 1979 to an estimated 609,000 by the late 1980s. As a result of the ban, poaching decreased significantly and ivory prices plummeted almost overnight. Sadly, the good news didn't last. A series of "one-off" ivory sales to several countries in the late 2000s, combined with growing affluence in Asia, resulted in increased consumer demand in places such as Hong Kong, China and Vietnam.
It's time to shut down this trade for good; the US-China accord announced at the White House today is a critical step forward in accomplishing this goal, but there's still significant work left to do. We must end the trade in Hong Kong as well as other key markets.
Your support of WildAid is what makes this work happen. WildAid PSAs and ad campaigns against ivory, shark fin and rhino horn are seen by millions of people in China and other countries every week. Together, we're securing a future for elephants, sharks, rhinos and other wildlife. Thank you so much.