Reducing the demand for ivory: Chinese join drive to end poaching


Gilbert Koech, The Star

Date Published


See link for photo.
After researching into the dynamics of demand for ivory, scientists have made a remarkable conclusion: the Chinese believe that it will soon become impossible to acquire ivory legally. Twenty two per cent of Chinese respondents indicate that this would increase their likelihood of buying ivory, implying a need to purchase ivory now before time lapses.

The study says China stands out as having the largest segment of likely buyers of ivory, the highest levels of current ownership and recent purchase rates, and the most positive perceptions of ivory as a desired material.

The National Geographic Society and GlobeScan carried out the study, titled: ‘Reducing the demand for ivory: An international study.’ It was carried out between February and September 2014 and released in August last year.

Besides looking into the demand for ivory, it sought to understand which consumer attitudes and opinions could be changed to reduce the demand.

The study came as Kenya seeks to lobby the world for African elephants to be granted maximum protection. The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora will be held in South Africa from September 24 to October 5.

In total, Kenya has submitted 14 proposals covering a wide range of wild species, including the African elephant, African Pangolins, species of snakes endemic to Kenya, the thresher sharks, species of chameleons, plant species and others, on measures to combat illegal wildlife trafficking.

China House founder Hongxiang Huang believes that engaging Chinese working and living in the country will provide a solution, which will ultimately reverse the trend.

A new census has shown a catastrophic decline in African savanna elephant population, except in Kenya, whose population is stable.

According to Great Elephant Census released on Wednesday, African savanna elephant population has declined by 30 per cent between 2007 and 2014. A total of 352,271 elephants were counted in the 18 countries surveyed, representing at least 93 per cent of savanna elephants in these countries.

The unprecedented census shows that 84 per cent of the population surveyed was sighted in legally protected areas, while 16 per cent were in unprotected areas.

High numbers of elephant carcasses were, however, discovered in many protected areas. This is an indication that elephants are struggling both inside and outside parks.

The population of African savanna elephants had, hitherto, remained guesswork. The estimated showed that in the early part of the 20th century, there may have been as many as three-five million African elephants.

Huang said during the Wild Run that he had been in the country since 2014 and every time he went to conservation events, he saw no Chinese, yet they canplay a critical role in conservation efforts.

“People were discussing China-related issues: ivory, elephants. But how could you not engage Chinese people if you believe they are part of the problem? How could you not engage the large majority of Chinese people who are against the illegal trade in such a difficult and global fight? I thought this could be improved, and it should be improved, and Chinese should become part of the wildlife conservation solutions,” he said.

Chen Mulan, a Chinese national who is in the country for a short visit, told the Star that there is an urgent need for Chinese in the country to take an active role in conservation. “People should love and care for the heritage,” she said.

Co-organised by Humane Society International, China House, Stand Up Shout Out and the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, the Wild Run, a non-profit event, was conceived as a model for how Kenyans and Chinese can work together to combat wildlife conservation.

“The first step is friendship. The second step is creating a forever for our wildlife,” explained Peter Moll, the founder of Stand Up Shout Out, to the mixed crowd.

The event was also supported by several Chinese enterprises, and attended by employees of several of Kenya’s prominent Chinese firms, including: Huawei, Tecno, Avic International and CCTV. It is the first colour run in East Africa, aimed at raising awareness of wildlife conservation among both local and expatriate communities.

Of the 29 countries represented in the African Elephant Coalition, 25 are African elephant range states, comprising the majority (68 per cent) of the 37 countries where African elephants live in the wild.

The Cites meeting has since divided countries. Namibia and Zimbabwe have already petitioned Cites to exempt their elephants from the ivory trade ban, on grounds that their populations are thriving.

The EU, in a position paper it released July 1 that shocked the conservation community, opposed the listing of the elephant population of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe as a “species threatened with extinction”. The EU is the biggest voting bloc in Cites, with 28 members.

Kenya Wildlife Service director general Kitili Mbathi lauded the Chinese community, saying the future of wildlife is in the hands of young people.

“Our children see elephants in the wild and our challenge is to make sure that with our efforts, the future generations children and grand children are able to see elephants in the wild,” he said, adding that ivory is of more worth while on elephants than when it has been mercilessly hacked off.

Kitili said it is wonderful to see the Chinese taking an active role in securing the future of wildlife, adding that China emains an important partner economically to the country.

“The government of China is keen to participate in conservation but the biggest challenge is to spread the message,” he said, referring to efforts that China and America have put in place with a view of ending the illegal wildlife trade.

Kitili said young Chinese no longer value jewelry made from ivory. This is because they are now aware that ivory is worth more while on a living elephants.

However, he said a lot still needs to be done, as China is still one of the largest ivory markets in the world, stimulating poaching.

“We are doing good job to reduce poaching as it has gone down in the last three years,” he said.

Kitili said if the demand is stopped, wildlife will have a chance to increase, thereby giving a chance to the young generation to have a look at them and appreciate nature.

And, even as the global ban on ivory trade fronted by Kenya gathers storm, over 20 conservationists have taken Japan head-on, accusing it of not being keen on conservation.

Citing commitments made by US President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping, they want Japan to support them, together with the 29 African countries, by endorsing a plan to afford elephants the highest protection under international law.

The conservationists said unlike China, where ivory is bought for prestige, 80 per cent of the ivory consumed in Japan is used for Hanko, the traditional Japanese seal used as the only form of official signature accepted by banks.

But most people buy these products without knowing that they are contributing toward the elephant slaughter and illegal trade.

“The growing demand for ivory in Japan has come about due to thriving legal domestic ivory markets. Studies however show that these markets are used for the laundering of illegal ivory through loopholes in the regulations. Japanese conservation organisations estimate that in the three years between 2012, and 2014, at least 12 tons of whole tusks and pieces of ivory were sold on Yahoo Japan Auction site. These marketing and distribution channels has not been focused by the law enforcement agencies,” they said.

They called on Uhuru — the head of the Giants Club of African presidents supporting elephant conservation — and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to seize this unique opportunity at the recent Ticad6 conference to discuss the issue as part of their duty towards the development agendas of Africa and Japan.

“We also urge the First Lady of Japan, Akie Abe, an ardent conservationist, to join Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta in raising awareness about elephants and their conservation needs.”

The conservationists have now demanded that Japan must permanently close legal domestic markets of ivory, and aggressively close down online trading sites that deal in ivory, all to crush demand.

They also want Japan to suspend ivory registration immediately, to prevent loopholes that allow fraudulent registration and laundering of illegal ivory and also to support the Elephant Protection Initiative.

The conservationists are Airi Yamawaki, Chief Executive Officer, Tears of the African Elephant, Paula Kahumbu, CEO WildlifeDirect, Peter Granli, CEO ElephantVoices, Joyce Poole Scientific Director, ElephantVoices and Dino Martins Executive Director, Mpala Research Centre.

Others are Rob Brandford, Director, IWORRY, Angela Sheldrick, CEO, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Richard Bonham co-founder Big Life Foundation, Allan Thornton, President, Environmental Investigation Agency and Max Graham, Founder and CEO, Space for Giants among others.