THE BLOG

The Chinese Ivory Problem: Sometimes It Takes More Than a Little Crush to Fall in Love

21/01/2014 11:50 GMT | Updated 23/03/2014 09:59 GMT

At 11am this Saturday, many hundreds of people are expected to descend on Portland Place, London. Close to the maddening crowds of Oxford Street, and within earshot of the BBC, they'll have chosen to do something a little more poignant and powerful on their weekend than a trip to TopShop.

They'll be out in the winter cold with a clear message. China - help us to save the elephants.

Speakers and protesters will gather outside the Chinese Embassy with a simple, easy to action and economically viable request - stop the legal domestic trade in ivory in China.

Elephants are currently being annihilated in Africa at a rate of around 100 per day, and the place where all the blood stained roads lead to is China - a country with the not so great label of being the world's Number One consumer of illegal ivory.

China is estimated to account for 70% of all illegal ivory. So again in basic maths, the ivory from 70 of those 100 elephants slaughtered every day ends up in China.

Ivory has been part of Chinese culture for many many years, so one can understand the significance of asking for a ban. But the truth is the UK and Europe also used to be massive consumers - piano keys, ornaments, billiard balls, you name it, we bought it. Ivory was a premium item, a beautiful thing to own, touch and share.

As City workers and tourists sup on their lattes overlooking the yachts in St. Katharine's Dock, it's hard to think that these very docks used to be filled with tusk upon tusk, tonne after tonne of this 'white gold', with 200 tonnes passing through each year at the peak - equivalent to around 4000 dead elephants' worth. But, that peak was in the late 1800s - somewhat before we seemed to develop a conscience. Before we learnt that ivory didn't just fall off the elephant, that ivory wasn't just an 'elephant's tooth', that with ivory came bloodshed.

Now, more than ever, that has never been more true. As well as the estimated 35,000 elephants killed for their tusks in Africa each year, there are the rangers killed in duty (an estimated 1000 plus in the last decade), the communities torn apart by poaching gangs, the loss of tourism revenue (which all too often holds local economies together in poor and underdeveloped countries), and even the global terrorism this new type of 'blood diamond' funds.

Some might argue that Chinese people may not have access to the same information and education that we have here in the West, so they can't be expected to know the facts about ivory and where it really comes from. But this just doesn't wash - it's not the poor illiterate farmer or manual migrant worker snapping up ivory at up to US$2000 per kilo in China, in a country where the average wage hovers around $2000 per year also. It is the Chinese versions of YOU that are consuming ivory - educated, aware, intelligent and wealthy. Ignorance isn't a fair excuse any more.

It is proven, without any shadow of a doubt, that China's legal ivory trade acts as a mask for the illegal trade in ivory across the nation. It is impossible for the Chinese public to tell which ivory is legal and which isn't, and their 'certification' method has been proven to not work - riddled with forgery and poor implementation and audit. All that the legal ivory market in China does is fuel demand, launder illegally poached ivory and legitimise a trade that developed nations grew out of many years ago.

So why now do we gather with our banners in English and Mandarin proclaiming 'Kill the ivory trade, not the elephants'? Because now is the time for China to shine. Now is the time for China to show that development and economic growth doesn't have to come at any cost, and now is the time for China to lead by example in advance of the UK Government's upcoming Illegal Wildlife Crime Summit in London this February.

On 6th January China shocked environmentalists across the globe by crushing six tonnes of seized ivory. Was this a momentous step in the right direction? Or, as some thought, a cynical PR ploy involving a mere fraction of the ivory they could have destroyed?

Silence the sceptics China, please, and do the right thing - ban your legal trade in ivory. Sometimes it takes more than a little crush to fall in love. Make us love you.

The Chinese Embassy Protest takes place at 11am on Saturday 25th January. The event is organised by Action for Elephants and supported by Care for the Wild International. You can learn more via our Last Chance for Elephants campaign page.