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Just a month after China signed on with 29 other nations to criminalize poaching, the country is making headlines again as it has taken another positive step in fighting wildlife crime by publicly destroying six tons of illegal ivory.

This morning at 11 am local time in Guangzhou, China, the State Forestry Administration and the General Administration of Customs of China held the country’s very first large-scale destruction of wildlife products that included 6.15 tons of confiscated illegal ivory and fur skins of tigers and leopards, among other items.

This symbolic destruction, coming two months after the U.S’s own destruction of its entire confiscated ivory stockpile, highlights China’s emerging role in combating wildlife crime, and particularly the poaching of elephants.

In recent years, elephant poaching has reached an all-time high, with 25,000 elephants killed in 2001 and 22,000 in 2012.

China’s appetite for ivory has been a main factor in these deaths and the decimation of Africa’s elephant populations, which just 35 years ago stood at 1.3 million but is now down to just below half a million at 470,000, elephant expert and associate professor at Beijing Normal University, Zhang Li, told the South China Morning Post.

While China still has a long way to go in cracking down on the lucrative and highly destructive ivory trade, it would be unfair to write off the country’s recent attempts at remedying the situation as nothing more than PR gimmicks.

As TRAFFIC’s ivory trade expert, Tom Milliken stated in a press release, “The destruction of seized ivory makes an important public statement that, in conjunction with other government-led efforts to reduce demand, has the potential to have a significant impact on the illegal market for ivory.”

Yes, China still has a stockpile of ivory it has yet to destroy and yes, the country’s ivory carving factories still remain open, but what we’re seeing now in China is something many thought they’d never witness – that China is actually taking action on wildlife crime and trafficking and that the Chinese public is finally opening their eyes to what’s really going on in Africa.

China’s ivory crushing ceremony should certainly be seen as a victory, but beyond that, it should serve as a sign that things can indeed get better and that we must continue to put persistent pressure on China and the international community to make things right for elephants and other wildlife crime victims.

Image source: WildAid / Facebook