BEIJING, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Nearly 13,500 pounds of seized ivory were destroyed by Chinese officials Monday, who said the move showed the country's concern about the illegal trade.
Both raw elephant tusks and carved pieces were ground to bits during a ceremony in the southern province of Guangdong, Xinhua reported.
"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.
John Scanlon, an official with an international organization that oversees trade in endangered species such as elephants, was among representatives of foreign governments and international organizations at the event.
He said China's destruction of the Ivory indicated the country's commitment to end ivory trading.
"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 Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The organization says an estimated 22,000 elephants were killed in 2012.
A front-page story in the influential Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly in November was the first national Chinese media piece identifying Chinese demand and consumption as the main driver of the elephant-poaching crisis.
Chinese law calls for sentences ranging from six months to life imprisonment for anyone convicted of involvement in illegal ivory trading.
Ivory traded legally in China can come from only two sources: ivory imported before China joined the convention in 1981 and the 62 tons of raw Ivory the convention allowed the Chinese government to purchase in 2008 from four African countries.
In November, U.S. authorities destroyed 6 tons of illegal ivory to raise awareness about the plight of elephants.