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Tanzania applauds China on ending of ivory trade
2017/04/06
 
Guardian 30 March 2017
Government hails Beijing's closure of carving plants and retail shops for elephant tusks and rhino horns as a positive step in the right direction
By Guardian Reporters and Agencies
THE Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has commended the Chinese government over its decision to close 67 ivory carving factories and retail shops with effect from today.
The ministry's permanent secretary, Major General Gaudence Milanzi, described the move by China, the world's biggest ivory market, as a positive step towards totally abolishing the illicit international ivory trade.
According to Milanzi, although China as a country has had its image largely tarnished by the trade, Tanzania has never doubted the Chinese government's commitment to curtailing it in the long run.
"Their decision is a clear indication that the anti-poaching crusade is bearing fruits," the PS told The Guardian in an interview yesterday.
Based on the information that I have, if I say what is really inside these containers, it could make any patriotic Tanzanian cry
He also revealed that Chinese authorities tipped their Tanzanian counterparts last December about the impending factory shutdowns as it moves to implement a pledge to end all domestic ivory sales by the end of the year.
According to Milanzi, the government will now start reaching out to other countries notorious for illicit ivory trading, to emulate China's example and do away with the vice.
In a report issued yesterday, the wildlife conservation group Save The Elephants said the average wholesale price of elephant tusks in China was $2,100 per kilogramme in early 2014, but fell to $1,100 by late 2015, before reaching $730 in February this year.
The group credits this to the combination of an economic slowdown, an official anticorruption campaign, a government commitment to ending the ivory trade, and growing public awareness.
Other conservationists have also heralded the Chinese government's pledge to close its domestic ivory industry as a "game-changer", and welcomed evidence of the pledge being implemented.
African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) country director John Salehe described the move as music to the ears of Tanzanians, saying it strongly complemented the country's own fight against the trade.
The AWF country boss gave the Chinese government the thumbsup for being on the forefront in trying to stamp out the vice.
"Their embassy in Dar es Salaam, for instance, has shown much support for Tanzania's own anti-poaching campaign and that was clearly manifested when they didn't interfere when Yang Fenglan was been tried in the country," Salehe said.
Fenglan, also known as the 'Ivory Queen', was charged with attempting to smuggle more than 700 elephant tusks with a combined weight of nearly 1.9 tonnes and a market value of over £1.4 million to East Asia.
Salehe also commended the Chinese government for donating to Tanzania 50 vehicles that will be used to intensify the war against poaching.
Meanwhile, one of the authors of the Save The Elephants report, Lucy Vigne, said the legal ivory trade in China has been "severely diminished," with licensed outlets gradually reducing the quantity of items on display and cutting prices.
The legal trade in ivory in China, using a stockpile amassed before a global ban, was the cover for a much larger illegal trade that fueled poaching, conservationists say.
"Law enforcement is key to success," Vigne said in a news release."This is already improving in China-we have seen a decline in the number of illegal ivory items on display for sale since 2013.
"On his part, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) public relations manager Pascal Shelutete said the Chinese government move will assure the country of a multiplicity of elephants.
China's State Forestry Administration announced the closure of the ivory carving workshops and retail outlets on its website on Friday last week (March 24), as part of what it called an "orderly process" to end the trade.
According to WildAid, a San-Francisco-based group that has played a leading role in raising public awareness in China about thelink between ivory and poaching, 12 out of 34 ivory carving factories and 45 out of 130 retail shops in China were being closed.
Law enforcement is key to success," Vigne said in a news release."This is already improving in China-we have seen a decline in the number of illegal ivory items on display for sale since 2013.
"These closures prove that China means business in closing down the ivory trade and helping the African elephant," said WildAid chief executive Peter Knights.
Knights said the ban was already helping, with seizures of ivory coming into China down by 80 percent in 2016 and poaching falling in Kenya.
But Hong Kong and Britain have yet to pass proposed bans on the ivory trade, while Japan's market "remains wide open," according to WildAid.
Although poaching may have peaked a few years ago, African elephants continue to be killed for their tusks every year, experts say, largely to meet ivory demands from Asia, particularly China.
The continent's elephant population has dwindled from about 1.2 million 35 years ago to between 400,000 and 500,000 now.
Central African forest elephants could be extinct within the next decade if current trends continue, while Tanzania's own jumbo population fell by 60 percent between 2009 and 2014, census data shows.
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