Progress or Propaganda? China Announces Ivory Burning Ceremony

China's State Forestry Administration says confiscated ivory and "other wildlife products" will be destroyed on January 6, 2014. PHOTO © Rhishja Cota-Larson
China’s State Forestry Administration says confiscated ivory and “other wildlife products” will be destroyed on January 6, 2014. PHOTO © Rhishja Cota-Larson

In what could be a critical development in the fight against wildlife trafficking, China’s State Forestry Administration has announced that confiscated ivory will be burned on January 6, 2014, in Guangzhou.

According to the statement, “other wildlife products” will be burned along with the ivory.

“For the purpose of raising public awareness, and demonstrating Chinese government’s resolve to combat wildlife trafficking, the State Forestry Administration and General Administration of Customs (GAC) of China will hold the burning ceremony of confiscated illegal ivory and other wildlife products …”

An itinerary of the burning ceremony refers to the “other wildlife products” as “fur skins of tiger, leopard, etc.” — and the “etc.” is anyone’s guess!

But just how much “confiscated illegal ivory” will be burned in China’s ceremony? (Update 01/04/2014: It’s rumored that six tons will be burned.)

There certainly seems to be an abundance of ivory in China. Consider the following:

  • 2013: An estimated 30,000 African elephants are killed every year for Chinese ivory markets;
  • 2011: China approved 172 ivory processing factories and retail outlets between 2004 — 2011;
  • 2008: China’s State Forestry Administration circular declared that “five tons of ivory per year is allowed into the market”;
  • 2008: China purchased 60 tons of “legal” ivory in a controversial CITES-approved stockpile sale in 2008;
  • 2002: The Environmental Investigation Agency revealed that 110 tons of ivory went “missing” from the country’s stockpile.

It must be said that if China is serious about “combating wildlife trafficking” (and taking responsibility for its role in the elephant crisis), then the country has to be willing to rid itself of literally tens of tons of ivory (and “other wildlife products”), as well as close down its domestic market, full stop, or risk having this ceremony dismissed as nothing more than propaganda.

However, in the interest of being positive and supportive, I’d like to say that China’s willingness to destroy at least some of its hoard is a most welcome step in the right direction — and hopefully the first of many positive developments this New Year.

China's State Forestry Administration announcement of an ivory burning ceremony on January 6, 2014.
China’s State Forestry Administration announcement of an ivory burning ceremony on January 6, 2014. (Source: Save the Elephants)
English translation of ivory burning ceremony announcement.
English translation of ivory burning ceremony announcement. (Source: Save the Elephants)

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Rhishja Cota-Larson

I am the founder of Annamiticus, and I work as an independent Wildlife Trade and Communication Design Consultant. I have journeyed to the streets of Hanoi to research the illegal wildlife trade, and to the rainforests of Sumatra and Java to document the world’s rarest rhinos. I am a Co-Chair of the SSN Pangolin Working Group. At CITES meetings, I collaborate with colleagues from around the world to lobby in favor of protecting endangered species. I am a Wildlife Trade and Trafficking Consultant for the upcoming documentary The Price, the host of Behind the Schemes and author of the book Murder, Myths & Medicine. I enjoy desert gardening, herping, reading, designing, and walking with my dogs.

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