China to shut down ivory trade by end of 2017

China has announced it is to shut down its ivory trade by the end of 2017 in a move designed to curb the mass slaughter of African elephants.

The Chinese government will end the processing and selling of ivory and ivory products by the end of March, according to a statement released on Friday.

Conservationists have described China's decision to implement a ban as significant because the country's consumer market drives much of the elephant poaching across Africa.

"This is a game changer for Africa's elephants," said Aili Kang, the Asia director for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

China, which has supported an ivory-carving industry as part of its cultural heritage, said carvers will be encouraged to change their activities and work, for example, in the restoration of artifacts for museums. More efforts will be made to stop the illegal trade, the statement said.

The number of Africa's Savannah elephants dropped by approximately 30 percent from 2007 to 2014, to 352,000, due to poaching, according to a study published this year.