A worker sorts confiscated ivory products to be destroyed in Dongguan City, south China's Guangdong Province, Jan. 6, 2014. The Chinese government destroyed 6.1 tonnes of confiscated ivory on Monday in Dongguan, to demonstrate the country's determination to discourage illegal ivory trade, protect wildlife and raise public awareness. (Xinhua/Li Xin)
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DONGGUAN, Guangdong, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese government on Monday destroyed 6.1 tonnes of confiscated ivory, in a move, the first of this kind, to demonstrate its stance against illegal wildlife trafficking.
Raw tusks and carved ivory pieces, which the government has seized over the years, were dumped into two crushers and ground to rubble and ash at a ceremony held in Dongguan City of southern province of Guangdong.
"The event, the first public ivory destruction in China, was to demonstrate the country's determination to discourage illegal ivory trade, protect wildlife and raise public awareness," said Zhang Jianlong, deputy head of the State Forestry Administration (SFA).
It is a significant step in wildlife protection and will contribute to the global fight against elephant ivory smuggling, Zhang said.
According to the SFA, some of the pulverized ivory will be taken to museums for display to raise public awareness on wildlife protection. The rest will be stored and kept by the government.
The destruction of the ivory, held by the SFA and the General Administration of Customs, was also attended by representatives from a number of foreign countries and international organizations.
John Scanlon, secretary-general of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), said the crushing of the ivory showed China is determined to end the illegal trade.
"If you do trade illegally in elephant ivory, you now run a much higher risk of being arrested, prosecuted and severely punished, and the return on your investment in illegally traded ivory may end up being jail time, heavy fines and seized assets," said the secretary-general.
Zhang Li, a scientist from the Freeland Foundation, said, "The large seizures of illegal ivory reflect the efforts of Chinese enforcement agencies, such as customs and the forestry police."
But Zhang said more efforts to strengthen wildlife protection policy and regulations should be encouraged to sustain achievements and the consistent reduction of consumer demand.
Ivory smuggling activities remain rampant globally. Latest figures released through the CITES Programme Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants showed that an estimated 22,000 elephants were killed in 2012.
Chinese laws stipulate that anyone involved in illegal business and trade in elephant ivory is liable to punishments ranging from six months imprisonment to a life sentence.
Ivory that is allowed for trade in China comes from only two sources -- those that were imported before the country joined the CITES in 1981 and the 62 tonnes of raw ivory stocks which China bought from four African countries in 2008, as permitted by the CITES.
China has been making prestigious products from elephant ivory for almost 5,000 years. It has taken stringent regulatory measures on ivory trade.
According to Chinese government rules, raw elephant ivory and its products should be processed at designated places, sold at fixed shops and tracked on an individual item basis. Each legal ivory product can be tracked through a unique photo ID and is recorded in a database.
Zhang said China will continue to strengthen inter-department law enforcement, involving customs, public security, forest and quarantine personnel, to vigorously fight against wildlife trafficking.