In late December China’s State Council announced that it was banning all domestic trade in ivory by the end of this year.
The move is aimed at curbing elephant poaching in Africa, and follows a 2015 decision by the Obama administration to end the sale of African elephant ivory across state lines in the US.
“With the United States also ending its domestic ivory trade, two of the largest ivory markets have taken action that will reverberate around the world,” said Carter Roberts, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature, in a statement.
The WWF estimates that poachers in Africa kill around 20,000 to 30,000 elephants annually. As much as 70% of this ivory may be trafficked to China, which has seen rising demand for ivory-based art and artefacts from its growing middle class. In future, owners of ivory objects may keep them or offer them as gifts, but sales of ivory relics at auction will be subject to strict oversight.
A ban passed in France last summer drew swift rebuke from the antiques trade, which argued that a ban would only create a black market. China will continue to permit the sale of ivory bought before 1989.
One week before the mainland China announcement, Hong Kong—the world’s biggest legal retail market for elephant ivory—also announced that it would shut down its domestic ivory market by 2021.