Conservationists say it's a possible game-changer in the struggle to curb the slaughter of elephants: a pledge by a Chinese official to stop the ivory trade in a country whose vast consumer market drives elephant poaching across Africa.

Now, conservation groups are waiting in suspense for China to outline how and when it would ban a sophisticated industry that criminal syndicates use as cover for their illicit business in tusks.

Zhou Fei, head of the China office of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organization, predicts that an ivory trade ban could happen in 2017 when a legal stockpile of ivory in China is possibly depleted.

The May 29 comment about an end to China's ivory trade came from Zhao Shucong, head of China's State Forestry Administration.