China’s ivory ban must start with civil servants, says senior official

China should ban civil servants from buying or receiving ivory products as gifts to curtail the trade in illegal wildlife, argues Yuan Xikun

Yuan Xikun, a member of the CPPCC Standing Committee, one of China’s top legislative bodies, has submitted a proposal calling for a ban on Party or government staff buying or accepting goods sourced from endangered species.

His proposal said that the rise in disposable income had made it more common for Chinese people to buy ivory, tiger bone or rhino horn products to collect, give as gifts, or keep as an investment. A survey of ivory buyers by WildAid found that civil servants are the recipients of a large number of these gifts.

China is currently the world’s biggest consumer of illegal ivory. In 2011 elephants in Africa suffered an annual death rate of 8% due to poaching, a figure higher than the natural replacement rate.

Yuan told chinadialogue that he had often been offered ivory products as gifts, but had never accepted them. “No matter how good it is or how expensive it was, it’s a part of an animal’s corpse.”

The ivory market in China did shrink for a time. In 1981 China signed up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and subsequently banned international trade in ivory products and required registration of legal ivory stocks. Since 2004 each ivory product has had to have its own certificate of legality. As a result the number of ivory workshops in China fell from 20 to less than 10, with employee numbers falling to 200 and a significant reduction in market size.

But in 2006 China applied to CITES to import ivory from South Africa. The market boomed and the price of raw ivory rocketed. That stimulated the black market, which grew out of control. In 2011 Elephant Family, a British conservation group, visited several ivory markets in Guangzhou, and found that only 10% of vendors could provide certificates.

So Yuan thinks civil servants should be banned from accepting or buying ivory – just as they are banned from eating bird’s nest soup or shark fin. He also wants to see a timetable for ending the ivory trade.