Battle against ivory doesn’t begin, end in China

By Huang Hongxiang and Jie Zhu Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/4 19:03:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The whole world is happy that China imposed a total ban on the production and sale of ivory products by January 1, 2018. About 170 ivory shops and factories were closed in China during 2017.

Even though ivory trade is prohibited on the domestic market, with the influx of Chinese in Africa, Africa has already become another major market for Chinese buyers. Extending our vision abroad, we Chinese still have a long way to go in this new battlefield of wildlife conservation.

News about Chinese involvement in ivory and rhino horn trade in Africa in the past few years is not rare: Yang Fenglan, better known as the "ivory queen," was accused of organizing one of the biggest ivory smuggling networks in Tanzania and was charged with smuggling more than 700 tusks out of Africa.

After legalizing the rhino horn trade in South Africa, John Hume, owner of the biggest rhino farm in South Africa, started a Chinese website targeting Chinese buyers and Chinese nationals were often arrested for trafficking rhino horns out of South Africa.

In December 2016, Chris Brown, chairman of Namibia Chamber of Environment, published an open letter to the Chinese ambassador co-authored by highly influential local NGOs, criticizing Chinese people in Namibia for exacerbating the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade. Bringing ivory and rhino horn from Africa to China is illegal in most cases, but the illicit trade has been able to break through Africa and China customs.

This has been damaging the image of Chinese in Africa, even in their daily lives and business.

The news headlines in The Namibian newspaper often feature Chinese involvement in wildlife poaching. Local Chinese complain that whenever they read the newspaper, the Chinese communities of Namibia are making bad news. Mr. Zhong, a project manager of one of the biggest Chinese construction companies in Namibia, said that a half-drunk Namibian in a bar once ranted at him: "Why do you come to our country to poach our wildlife? Get out of our country!" His experience was not isolated.

Chinese operating small businesses in Namibia Chinatown still remember their extremely hard time in the first quarter of 2017. After a few cases of Chinese arrested with rhino horns, police raided their shops searching for illegal wildlife products and other restricted items.

Poaching crimes even resulted in an all-out negative sentiment against China. Suspected tax evasion and money laundering have worsened the situation and affected visa applications, business operations, imports and exports.

To fight the ivory war in Africa, more efforts are needed.

Understanding Chinese in Africa and their involvement in the illegal wildlife trade is the first step. In general, it is much easier for Chinese to gain access to illegal wildlife products in Africa than in China and the products are far cheaper: usually one-hundredth of their price in China.

Chinese are involved in different ways. Some might simply see ivory as a cheap and rare souvenir. "Everyone else buys it, so I do the same even though I can never tell why it is good," one Chinese businessman told me. There was a time when almost every Chinese person in this African country bought at least one ivory bangle, he said.

They are involved in container smuggling too, especially those who are already involved in illegal timber and mineral exports. However, they might not be the criminal gangs the outside world imagines. Many Chinese businesses in Africa are in a gray zone or illegal anyway. Ivory for them is just another trading of goods to bring in money.

Conservation education rarely reaches Chinese communities in Africa. In many African countries, Chinese communities would say they have never participated in any wildlife conservation activities and that wildlife conservation is far from their daily life, even though the country has many wildlife conservation NGOs.

Indeed wildlife conservation NGOs in Africa often have little knowledge of Chinese communities in Africa, not to mention about how to engage them. Because of this, a communication gap hinders Chinese involvement in local sustainable development, including wildlife conservation.

Luckily, as more NGOs have started focusing on engaging Chinese in Africa, an increasing number of young Chinese have arrived in Africa and served as a bridge between Chinese and locals. The situation has begun to change.

The ivory trade is a China-Africa problem and an international problem as well. The ivory ban in China is great, but it is not the end of our fight for elephants.

The authors are from China House, a Nairobi-based social enterprise to integrate Chinese into Africa through youth engagement.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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