Attacking critics does not change the fact that China is the main consumer of blood ivory


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa

Date Published


The mudslinging by Chinese officials, blaming western media and by implication the conservation fraternity at large for negative publicity over the sharp increase in elephant slaughter in Africa, and as being intended to drive a wedge between them and Africa, appears largely misguided, considering the facts at hand.

Those facts are that wherever Chinese companies are engaged in infrastructure projects or in mining in Africa, poaching in the vicinity of their labor camps has gone up. Fact is that over 90 percent of those  arrested at African airports, found with blood ivory in their possession, are Chinese citizens. Fact is that for years have Chinese authorities happily sat on the fence and let their citizens fuel the elephant slaughter by turning a blind eye on the illegal trade. Fact is that most blood ivory cargos intercepted were destined for China.

True enough, there has been a little movement of late, as Chinese authorities have had to face up to growing global opposition in regard of the illegal ivory trade, but so far little more than cosmetic change  has taken place.

The destruction recently of 6 tons of ivory cannot be described as anything else but a token show and Africa’s conservation fraternity demands a lot more positive action, such as banning trade and possession in China of blood ivory altogether and enforce strengthened laws with vigor, just the same as poachers of their prized Panda bears, once convicted in court, face the death penalty.

Conservationists also rejected the notion that they were intent to spoil China’s ‘good name’ or interfere with the business of Chinese companies in Africa, but insisted that the links between the presence of Chinese companies in Africa and the relevant time frames of their arrival vis-a-vis the increase in poaching, are hard to ignore.

“Instead of mouthing off the Chinese should show cause to support conservation in Africa. For too long they ignored our complaints and what their citizens do in Africa. They thought they can get away with it but when they realized that this is biting them in the a** they slowly and apparently very grudgingly started to face up to the music. Their government inaction made them complicit in the illegal trade, turning a blind eye on the fact how many Chinese were arrested with blood ivory, how many shipments were intercepted enroute to or at the borders with China speak louder than their feeble utterances,” said a source from Arusha when discussing the response by Chinese authorities made through the Director General for African Affairs in the Chinese foreign ministry.

Others though cautiously welcomed Chinas’ apparent change in position and suggested the Chinese need more “encouragement” now than just blunt opposition after losing too much of their proverbial “face” already over their alleged complicity in the mass slaughter of African elephants.

In Tanzania in particular but across the elephant range states have elephant herds been decimated in recent years, as the growing wealth in China fueled a relentlessly expanding demand for ivory trinkets, which supposedly improved social standing and was used to display newly found riches to their peers. It is there, on the demand side, where Chinese government’s actions in strengthening laws and strictly enforcing existing laws is crucially important as only lesser demand will curb poaching from its present levels.