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China's crackdown on trophy hunting: Is it enough?

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Vincent Yu/AP/File

(Read caption) Confiscated ivory items and carvings are displayed during an ivory destruction ceremony Dongguan, southern Guangdong province, China, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014.

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This week, China, the world’s biggest importer of illegal ivory, imposed a temporary ban on ivory acquired as hunting trophies.

China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) said it would stop approving imports until Oct. 15, 2016, Reuters reports.

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The policy follows a one-year ban in February on imports of African ivory carvings

Ivories acquired from big game hunting have long been sanctioned in China, but conservationists say, “it stimulates demand for fresh ivory and is used to conceal the illegal trade.”

The New York Times reported at the time of the ban, "because the temporary ban prohibits only the import of ivory carvings, it does not affect China’s legal domestic ivory trade, which has prompted an increase in the price of ivory and provides legal camouflage for a booming trade in illicit ivory smuggled into China’s licensed carving factories and stores."

Conservationists say the new restrictions could reduce poaching. “Legal ivory trade has always been used as a cover to launder poached ivory, and when it was authorized by the previous administration in China in 2009, poaching escalated dramatically in Africa,” Peter Knights, chief executive of WildAid, an organization focused on reducing demand for wildlife products, said in a statement on the group's website. 

Last month, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced an historic agreement to end the global trade in ivory. US and China are the world's two largest markets for illegal ivory.

“The United States and China commit to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory,” they said in a statement. 

This past July, the UN adopted a resolution "committing all countries to ramp up their collective efforts to end the global poaching crisis and tackle the vast illegal wildlife trade." "The assembly said this should include strengthening legislation to prevent, investigate and prosecute illegal trading and called on all countries to make illicit trafficking involving organized criminal groups "a serious crime," the Associated Press reported. 

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It is estimated that 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012, an average of approximately one every 15 minutes. Valued at $19 million annually, illegal wildlife trade is one of the world’s most lucrative global criminal activities.

China’s new policy was implemented just ahead of a trip by President Xi Jinping to Britain. Earlier this year, prominent British personalities called on the Chinese president to end his country’s ivory trade.