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Almost a million elephants roamed Africa 25 years ago. Now there are fewer than half that many. The main reason - ivory. Despite a ban on ivory trade, poachers continue to kill elephants for their tusks. Now, China which is the destination for most of that ivory, will shut down its market. NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on what conservationists call a breakthrough.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Wildlife experts thought that an international ban on ivory trade in 1989 would slow or even stop the killing of elephants for their tusks. It didn't. In fact, the killing got worse. That's mostly because the ban didn't cover older ivory taken before the 1989 ban. So what's happened is people are still killing elephants, but passing off their ivory as old. And therefore legal to trade. John Robinson is with the Wildlife Conservation Society. He says efforts to stop the supply of ivory at the source in Africa have not been very successful.
JOHN ROBINSON: Addressing the demand is absolutely essential if we're going to deal with the poaching issues.
JOYCE: And the biggest demand for ivory has been in China.
ROBINSON: Almost all the ivory is for carving. China has had a history of doing so. Whole tusks are carved into elaborately assembled pieces of one kind or another.
JOYCE: Now China has agreed to close down that legal trade by the end of 2017. Robinson says it's an announcement conservationists have been waiting for since 2015 when U.S. and Chinese officials started negotiating an end to China's trade.
ROBINSON: Certainly closing down domestic ivory in China will have a dramatic impact. The Chinese market is the largest ivory market in the world.
JOYCE: The Chinese government has laid out an extensive plan that includes putting ivory carvers to work on existing museum pieces or other projects. The government says it will also educate the public on the consequences of ivory trading for elephant populations. The Obama administration already has shut down almost all trade in ivory in the U.S. Robinson says the Chinese decision may well convince other countries that trade in ivory such as Vietnam and Japan to do the same. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
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