Nakuru — Since the 1970s, poaching has been a major threat to the survival of elephants in Kenya with some critics in recent years blaming the Chinese market for fueling the demand.
Now, a new era has begun as the Chinese government announced on Dec. 30 plans of proscribing processing and sale of ivory by the end of 2017.
Jabes Okumu, a wildlife expert with the East African Wild Life Society, in an interview with Xinhua hailed it as a strong move towards protection of elephants.
Okumu said the decision to shut down China's domestic market will to a greater extent reduce pressure on the wildlife resources not only in Kenya but also in East Africa.
The wildlife expert said the ban will lead to crippling prices as a result of limited buyers of raw ivory as well as a decline in supply resulting from a lower number of distributors.
"This move is likely to attract support from other ivory consuming countries and this will help build synergies towards pushing for full protection of elephants as indicated in schedule II to I of the CITES," he said.
CITES, or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international agreement between governments aiming to ensure that global trade in specimens of wild animals and plants do not threaten their survival.
Conservationists have identified a number of threats to African elephants, including poaching and habit losses due to climate change, drought and human encroachment.
Africa's overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching over the past 10 years, according to a report released in September.
"African elephant populations have suffered drastic decline in Kenya due to poaching for ivory. Even though habitat loss and fragmentation have also been contributing factors, poaching remains the major cause," Okumu said.
The African Elephant Status Report noted that Eastern Africa, the region most affected by poaching, has experienced an almost 50-percent elephant population reduction, though in countries like Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, elephant numbers have been stable or even increasing since 2006.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in a statement last year indicated an increase in elephant numbers in the recent times thanks to various conservation efforts including partnerships to protect the wildlife and creating awareness on poaching.
By 2015, the elephant population in Kenya stood at 35,149, representing a 2.29-percent annual increase since 1989, according to the statement.
Okumu said China's ban inevitably called for a backup of other conservation efforts to ensure wildlife populations become increasingly viable and stable.
Kenya and China are in a partnership of protecting the Kenyan wildlife.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, during his visit to Kenya in 2014, announced financial and technical assistance to enhance protection of iconic wildlife species.