China destroys tonnes of ivory in landmark move

Workers destroy illegal ivory in Dongguan, southern Guangdong province, China, Monday, 6 January 2014
Image caption The ivory was destroyed in Dongguan city, southern Guangdong province, in China

China has for the first time destroyed a large quantity of confiscated ivory, in a public event described by conservation groups as a landmark move.

Just over six tonnes of carvings, ornaments and tusks amassed over the years were fed into crushing machines.

State media say the move aims "to discourage illegal ivory trade, protect wildlife and raise public awareness".

Conservationists say demand for ivory, where China is seen as the biggest market, is fuelling poaching in Africa.

The Chinese use ivory in traditional crafts and carvings are prized as status symbols, correspondents say.

John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), said this was the first time China has chosen to crush ivory it had previously seized.

"It's an occasion when China can send and is sending a very powerful message both domestically to the Chinese people and internationally, that it is not prepared to tolerate the illegal trade in elephant ivory," he told Reuters news agency.

The event in Dongguan city, Guangdong province, which had media, diplomats and conservationists in attendance, was broadcast on state television.

Some of the powder from the crushed ivory is to be disposed, with others sent to a museum and preserved, state media said.

Cites banned the trade in ivory in 1989. But poaching has increased across sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, with criminal gangs slaughtering elephants for ivory markets in Asia.

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