China has announced plans to phase out all ivory processing and trade by the end of 2017 yesterday, a move that conservationists hope would end the mass killing and threat of extinction of African elephants.
China had earlier announced plans to ban the ivory trade, but it had now committed itself to a timetable to end the trade, something it said it would do this summer, according to the US State Department.
"China's announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation. The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years, and the future is brighter for wild elephants, said Carter Roberts, the president and CEO of WWF, The Washington Post reported.
"With the US also ending its domestic ivory trade earlier this year, two of the largest ivory markets have taken action that will reverberate around the world."
Africa, prior to European colonisation was believed to have held as many as 20 million elephants; but only 1.3 million remained by 1979. However the Great Elephant Census, an ambitious project to count all of Africa's savannah elephants, revealed this year that things may be far worse.
In the seven years between 2007 and 2014, the elephant population had fallen 30 per cent, or 144,000 animals.
According to The Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental advocacy group, the news ''may be the biggest sign of hope for elephants since the current poaching crisis began,'' The Washington Post reported.
''This is great news that will shut down the world's largest market for elephant ivory,'' said Aili Kang, Asia director at the Wildlife Conservation Society. ''Ivory traffickers have just lost one of their biggest markets.''
According to commentators, it was a huge step for a country that had previously argued that ivory carving was part of its heritage.