China slapped a one-year ban on African ivory hunting trophy imports, the state forestry authority said on Thursday ahead of a trip by President Xi Jinping to Britain, where members of the royal family have urged China to crack down on the ivory trade. Conservationists say China's growing appetite for contraband ivory imports, which are turned into jewels and ornaments, has fueled a surge in poaching in Africa.
In March, Britain's Prince William urged an end to the trade during a visit to a Chinese elephant sanctuary in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Xi is scheduled to travel to Britain between Oct. 19-23, where he will stay at Buckingham Palace, home to the royal family. China's State Forestry Administration said in a statement posted on its website that it would "temporarily prohibit" trophy imports until Oct. 15, 2016 and "suspend the acceptance of relevant administrative permits". It did not give further details, though the official Xinhua news agency said a government review is under way on whether to extend a separate one-year ban made in February on imports of African ivory carvings.
The policy also follows a deal to enact nearly complete bans on ivory imports and exports made during Xi's September state visit to the United States. Within China, the trade and sale of ivory carvings are legal if the items were imported before the country joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1981, or come from a stock of 62 tonnes of raw-ivory bought from four African countries in 2008 as a one-time exemption. The government releases a portion of that stockpile each year to ivory carving factories.
China crushed 6.2 metric tonnes (6.83 tons) of confiscated ivory early last year in its first such public destruction of any part of its stockpile. However, the country still ranks as the world's biggest end-market for poached ivory, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In June, a Tanzanian government minister described elephant poaching as a national disaster, and urged China to curb its appetite for ivory.