NAIROBI, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- China's precedent setting decision to ban processing and trade in ivory products injected fresh vitality in global efforts to save elephants and other endangered wildlife species, Executive Director of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Erik Solheim told Xinhua during a recent interview.
"This is one of the most important and positive decisions for global conservation of wildlife which has been made over the last few years," said Solheim in Nairobi.
China in December 2016 announced a ban on processing and sale of ivory products by the end of 2017.
Global wildlife campaigners hailed China's ban on ivory trade terming it a milestone in efforts to eradicate elephant poaching in Africa.
"I am so pleased with this decision because it will have an immediate impact on African elephants," Solheim remarked adding that other countries should take a cue from China and close their ivory markets.
China's rising diplomatic and economic clout will embolden global campaign against illicit trade in wildlife products.
Solheim noted that China's large footprint in Africa places it at a strategic position to advance the continent's wildlife conservation agenda.
He urged Beijing to spearhead campaigns against cross-border trade in ivory products through public awareness alongside lobbying for total closure of remaining market for trophies.
"It is essential for China to reach out to other countries like Vietnam which is a key market and many others to boost global efforts to fight ivory trade," said the UNEP boss.
He emphasized that international collaboration in law enforcement and public education will boost efforts to eliminate elephants poaching.
"We need to bring to court offenders and give them severe sentences. There is need to inform everyone that ivory trade is endangering African elephants," Solheim told Xinhua.
The UN environmental agency has partnered with Chinese celebrities to raise awareness on threats facing Africa's iconic mammals like elephants and rhinos.