Illegal raw ivory prices in China have more than halved, a new report reveals. The sharp fall may provide a ray of hope that poaching of Africa's elephants will be curbed.
Elephants are killed for tusks to meet the Chinese black market demand. According to the report by Kenya-based conservation organisation Save the Elephants, the price per kilogram of illegal raw ivory in China had fallen to $1,100 (£666) by November from a record of $2,100 (£1,400) last year.
The organisation said the current price will still encourage poachers to make profits but that "the trend is a positive sign". "The fall in the price of ivory gives us hope, but with numbers of elephants still being killed in Africa we're a long way from celebrating yet," the group's founder, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, said. "Grave threats remain, and it's vital that the complete ban in China is enforced soon."
"If this trend continues and demand for ivory in China collapses, the Chinese government will be seen to have played a dramatic and decisive leading role in ending the worst crisis for elephants on record."
The organisation said China's slowing economy and the government's crackdown on controlling illegal trade have hit the sales of ivory products hard. The Chinese government has restricted the number of licences issued to ivory factories and retail outlets and issue of official ID cards required to sell ivory items legally has been deliberately delayed, it said.
"Everybody in the ivory business in China is waiting and wondering what will happen next, and are gloomy that their centuries-long tradition of ivory carving may be coming to an end, hoping at least that it can be phased out gradually," the authors of the report said.
Ivory dealers in China know the future of ivory trade is bleak, the researchers said, citing the government's "bold" actions in curbing the commercial and illegal trade.
"During President Xi Jinping's September visit to the US, he issued a historic joint statement with President Obama stating that their two governments will halt the commercial trade in ivory," they said.
"In October Chinese state television gave Prince William the opportunity to address millions of people on curbing demand for ivory, and he spoke inspiringly that China could become a global leader in wildlife protection."