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China to ban ivory trade by 2017

China has announced it will ban the trading and processing of ivory by the end of 2017. The move has been hailed by conservationists as a "game changer" for elephants.

In a move designed to curb the mass slaughter of African elephants, China said it would ban all domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017, according to a government statement.

Citing the statement, China's "Xinhua" news agency reported the ban would "affect 34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues, with dozens to be closed by the end of March 2017."

"Before that deadline, law enforcement agencies will continue to clamp down on illegalities associated with the elephant's tusk," "Xinhua" added.

The statement follows Beijing's announcement in March to widen a ban on imports of all ivory products acquired before 1975, when an international agreement to protect wildlife against over-exploitation took effect. The treaty, named the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), banned ivory trade in 1989.  

The government added that it would allow auctions of ivory antiques from legitimate sources, as ivory carving is a cultural heritage in China, where finely worked pieces are highely collectible. 

Conservationists praise the move

The decision by Beijing follows years of international outcry from conservationists who see China as the world's "largest market" for illicit ivory trade.

In a statement, Aili Kang, the Asia director for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said the move would "shut down the world's largest market for elephant ivory."

"I am very proud of my country for showing this leadership that will help ensure that elephants have a fighting chance to beat extinction."

She hailed the announcement as a "game changer for Africa's elephants," as environmentalists estimate that more than 20,000 elephants were killed for their ivory last year.

Flash-Galerie bedrohte Tierarten (AP)

WWF estimates that only 415,000 African elephants remain

African ivory can fetch prices up to 1,000 euros ($1,100) for a kilo in China, where it is highly sought after and seen as status symbol.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also praised Beijing's move, but called on Hong Kong to end its ivory trade by 2021.

Cheryl Lo, a senior wildlife crime officer at WWF, said "Hong Kong (could) become a preferred market for traffickers to launder illegal ivory."

smm/rc (AP, AFP)