Many never thought they’d see the day come, but it finally has – China, one of the world’s largest importers of ivory, has announced, that it, along with 29 other nations, will help protect the world’s elephants by criminalizing poaching.

Now, that’s something to celebrate.

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For the past year, it seemed that poaching was reaching a whole new level, with poachers resorting to tactics like cyanide poisoning to hack off precious elephant tusks and a death toll skyrocketing to 22,000 dead elephants across Africa in 2012 – a number that a new report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) recently revealed.

The same report estimates that if poaching continues at around the same rate it is now for the next 10 years, 20 percent of Africa’s elephants will be wiped out, further devastating the ecosystem and an already vulnerable population.

These numbers are almost as hard to hear as this recording of an elephant slaughter and the heartbreaking fact that elephants are still affected by mass killings years later.

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Plenty of tactics have been proposed to combat this crime and the grim future facing Africa’s wildlife including shooting poachers on the spot and hiring more park rangers. But what has sorely been missing from the conversation is a collective crack-down on the crime by the international community.

Thankfully, nations have finally been shaken into action. At a summit this week in Bostswana’s capital Gaborone, 30 nations, including China, Germany, Zambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the United States, signed an agreement to adopt 14 measures to protect wildlife crime victims.

According to Bloomberg, the steps “include classifying poaching as a serious crime, strengthening cross-border law-enforcement and reining in demand for ivory in Asia with information campaigns.”

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“The conference resulted in concrete improvements for elephants in Africa,” German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said via Bloomberg. “I hope that we can now break the dangerous trend toward more poaching.”

Ultimately, what this new agreement does is “render the trade of ivory … a serious crime, enforceable under international law, with stricter prison sentences,” reports International Business Times.

Now, isn’t that something? It’s always said that good things happen when you least expect it, and turns out, it’s true. Many thought poaching was getting beyond control, and that there was little hope left for major steps to be taken against it. But perhaps we threw down our hats too soon.

While time will tell how well this new agreement will be upheld, for now, let’s take the good news and celebrate properly (cake, anyone?).

Image source: Voices in the Wilderness / Flickr