The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that 20,000 elephants are poached each year in Africa, most due to Chinese demand for ivory, the International Business Times reported. Skilled Chinese artisans typically carve the ivory into ornate patterns that can sell for thousands of dollars. China’s current stockpile of legal ivory is estimated to be worth roughly $150 million, The New York Times reported.
Although new ivory has been banned internationally since 1989, prior legislation has done little to slow the lucrative ivory market in China. Since the ban did not technically prohibit ivory taken before 1989, some unscrupulous dealers had exploited this loophole to pass off new ivory as old, pre-ban samples.
Whether China’s promise will reduce illegal ivory trade remains to be seen, but in the meantime, conservationists are optimistic. “It’s a game changer,” Elly Pepper of the Natural Resources Defense Council told NPR. “[It] could be the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction.”