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China approved for controlled ivory imports from Africa

 Washington, D.C. - China has been approved as a buyer of legally stockpiled African elephant ivory under strict conditions. The decision was made today at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

Members of the CITES Standing Committee agreed to the ruling, which comes into effect after it enters the meeting’s formal written record.

The request by Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to trade African Elephant ivory was originally approved at the CITES Conference of the Parties in 2002 and then modified with new conditions at the meeting in 2007, including approval of Zimbabwe to trade its ivory. The CITES meeting this week was charged with deciding whether China could be approved as a trading partner. To gain approval, China had to convince CITES it had put in place adequate measures to tackle any illegal domestic ivory trade and to regulate legal trade effectively.

“Now that China has been approved, it has an opportunity to assist African countries, particularly in Central Africa, where elephant poaching and domestic trade goes unchecked, to improve law enforcement capacity, and support conservation programs,” said Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC North America.

In 2004, the CITES Parties drew up an action plan for tackling illegal domestic ivory markets, but so far, with the notable exception of Ethiopia, progress has been slow.

“The only way to end elephant poaching is through an effective clampdown on illegal domestic ivory markets,” said Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International’s Species Program.

“There are strong links between China and Africa, and WWF and TRAFFIC would like to see Chinese-government funded conservation awareness programs sending out a clear message to Chinese nationals abroad that it is illegal to buy and bring home ivory smuggled out of West and Central Africa,” she added.

China joins Japan in now having CITES approval to bid for registered, government-owned ivory stockpiles from four southern African countries—Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Conditions of the sale direct the revenue into special funds to support elephant conservation and community conservation and development programs. Purchasing countries have to demonstrate adequate control measures to ensure that the ivory can be tracked and remains within domestic markets. The four African countries permitted to sell ivory still need to hold an auction and agree a price, and the transfer of ivory will be closely supervised by the United Nations CITES Secretariat. In 1999, Japan paid USD5 million for a similar sale of almost 50 tons of elephant ivory.

“Our investigations have shown that ivory is illegally traded into the U.S. too and Americans should be careful not to contribute to the poaching of elephants through supporting illegal trade,” warned Allan. In particular avoid buying ivory online from China, as China’s approval for trade is only for their domestic market and is not to be sold internationally.”

After any ivory sale takes place, TRAFFIC’s monitoring systems will be tracking whether or not it leads to an increase in illegal trade in ivory. Following the last one-off ivory sale under CITES in 1999, it was noted that the illicit trade in ivory progressively declined over the next five years.

WWF and TRAFFIC are active across the globe, including in China and elephant range countries in Asia and Africa, and have been working for decades to help ensure a reduction in the illegal killing of elephants and illicit trade in ivory.



  • TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint program of WWF and IUCN.
  • Members of the current CITES Standing Committee, who are permitted to vote are: Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Iceland, Iran, Japan, Kenya, St Vincent and the Grenadines, UK and Zambia. Switzerland is a member as the Depositary Government, and only votes if there is a tie. Non-voting members are the Netherlands (previous meeting of the Conference of the Parties host country) and Qatar (next meeting of the Conference of the Parties host country).
  • TRAFFIC operates the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) on behalf of CITES. Using elephant product seizure records from around the world, ETIS is a comprehensive information system established to monitor the illicit trade in ivory and to assess whether any limited resumption of ivory trade would have negative impacts on elephant populations. The latest ETIS report, presented at the last full meeting of CITES in 2007, is available from:
  • Between 1989 and 1997, all elephant populations were listed in Appendix I of CITES, which imposed a global ban on international commercial trade in elephant products. Subsequently, CITES Parties have twice approved limited, conditional one-off sales of ivory from four southern African countries (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe) whose elephant populations have been transferred to Appendix II.