BEIJING, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- The doors to the ivory trade in China close on Dec. 31, 2017, and the world starts 2018 a step closer to a land free of the slaughter of endangered animals.
China honors its commitment to ending commercial processing and sales of ivory by the end of 2017, the State Forestry Administration has said, adding it was China's "new year gift to the elephant."
The move affects 34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues, with all of them to close, in the world's once largest ivory market.
"The Chinese authorities will continue to clamp down on ivory collection as well as processing, sales, transportation and smuggling of elephant tusks," the administration said.
Rising wealth, a growing appreciation of ivory as part of Chinese cultural heritage, its value as a status symbol and popular gift, and a sense that it was an inflation-proof investment created a boom in the industry, and a huge opportunity for global crime syndicates to exploit.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the population of African elephants declined by 111,000 over the past 10 years. The overall trends in the poaching of African elephants show a decline from the 2011 peak, but are still at levels too high when viewed continent-wide.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) found that between 2008 and 2016, the number of elephants shrank by 66 percent in parts of Cameroon, Congo, Central African Republic and Gabon.
In 2015, China joined global efforts to announce it would phase out the ivory trade and ban imports of ivory and ivory products.
The Chinese clampdown on the ivory trade has pushed the prices of ivory down, and the number of elephants killed in the last three years down by 65 percent, according to a report by Save the Elephants.
Save the Elephants researchers said the price of ivory dropped drastically from its peak of 2,100 U.S. dollars per kg in 2014 to 730 dollars per kg in February 2017.
"China's ban is crucial for elephants," said Wild Aid CEO Peter Knights.
Poaching for the trade in ivory is estimated to claim about 30,000 elephants around the world every year. But Knights said things were improving. Poaching in Kenya had dropped from 390 elephants killed in 2013 to only 46 last year, and by 55 percent in Tanzania in 2016 compared to 2015.
The trading ban will put ivory carving craftsman out of business. The Chinese government shut down 67 ivory-carving workshops and retail outlets in March, and the remaining 105 will be closed by the end of the year.
Ivory carving in China traces its origins to the Ming and Qing dynasties, from the 14th to the early 20th centuries, when the craft's main consumers came from the imperial court and elite scholar-officials.