African elephants on the verge of extinction—blame China or Africa?

Recently, a Kenya conservationist Paula Kahumbu published an article on CNN, titled “We don’t buy panda products, so Chinese should keep hands off our elephants”, directly pointing at the biggest ivory consuming country.

She said due to the endless demand from China, the wild elephants are on the verge of extinction. Although numerous efforts were put in to saving wild elephants, unless the leading consumer of ivory- China- commits to put a halt on ivory trade, elephants will be doomed.  I believe her point probably is the mainstream view for elephant conservation every where except for China. However, what do Chinese actually think about it? To figure out this, let’s look at the official attitude from the China CITES committee and an online survey reflecting the general public’s opinion.

CHINA’s OFFCIAL ATTITUDE:

China’s high demand is not the only reason—responsibilities lie in every country

Meng Xianlin, deputy director of China’s Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office(濒管办常务副主席), the body of China’s CITES committee, who is also the representative at 2015 Kasane IWT Conference. He commented on African elephants conservation more than once in different occasions.  He stresses that China hopes that countries can improve coordination, do less finger pointing and make more joint efforts in fighting ivory smuggling globally and conserving elephant population.  The following are his comments made in 2013 and after Kasane Conference:

“We can’t simply attribute that to legal utilization and trade of ivory or to market demand. The fundamental solution to this problem must come from close cooperation among countries that hold elephant habitats, are transit points for shipments or are big consumers of ivory.”

“CITES came into force on 1st July 1975. The Pre-Convention wildlife product stockpiles held by western countries are still constantly being exported. In addition, 70‒80% of trophy hunting activities in Africa, including elephant hunting, which is legal in Zimbabwe, are undertaken by Europeans and Americans. The nature of trophy hunting activities should be re-evaluated, whether they are conservational or commercial. The prime responsibility lies in every country.”


Dr Meng’s remark acts as a whitewash, somehow blame other countries’ ivory policy rather than examine its own.  According to IFAW, China has replaced Japan, become the biggest ivory consuming country in the world, in which illegal amount is 6 times of legal one! China insisted it has the most stringent ivory policy, which can effectively regulate the market. However, the above data doesn’t agree at all. IFAW’s research showed it is a common practice that the licensed ivory shops usually secretly sell the illegal smuggled ivory with the shield of its legal license. The endless demand in China stimulates rampant poaching in another continent.

Poll: When the buying stops, the killing can too.

Tecent, the Chinese news portal started an online opinion poll on whether China should be responsible for the African elephants’ tragedy. Till now, more than 50,000 people voted, among which, 61% believed China is the one to blame, while 39% disagree.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 15.33.21

Does China endangers African elephants?_ poll by Tecent

Those who disagree, argue that African countries fail to protect their own elephants. They should not blame their own faults to other countries. If poachers do not kill elephants for the pecuniary benefit, then no matter how big the demand is in China, there should be no ivory in markets to offer.  It is unfair to blame China if the sourcing countries cannot halt domestic poaching first. Other pro-trade parties interpret from an economic perspective, they believe it is the “zero poaching” policy itself to blame. The stringent ivory policy makes the ivory products “scarce”, which increases the trade cost also stimulates even larger demand.  BTW, I think this “economic illustration” is completely BS. I will blog about economic analysis of illegal wildlife trade in the future. Please Stay tuned: D

The poll result brings some pleasant comfort: majority of the general public believed in “when the buying stops, the killing can too.” China saved pandas from extinction, recovered Tibenten Antelope to 30,000 by 2014. China is capable and responsible to save African elephants. Reducing domestic demand and stronger law enforcement will be the next step.

Stay wild xxx

 

 

 

 

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