China / Cover Story

Chinese 'ambassadors' shine spotlight on bloody ivory trade

By Chen Liang (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-08 07:46


Chinese 'ambassadors' shine spotlight on bloody ivory trade

I. K. Lubia, assistant director of enforcement and compliance affairs at the Kenya Wildlife Service, displays ivory in a storage facility. CHEN LIANG/CHINA DAILY

Media participation

"Information is power. You cannot win this war without the participation of the media," Stephen Manegene, director of wildlife conservation at Kenya's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, told the visiting delegates, adding that Kenya is home to about 30,000 wild elephants.

In the past two years, a program of stricter punishments and compensation for human-animal conflicts has helped to cut elephant poaching by 40 percent.

Under the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, which came into force last year, poachers face fines of up to $120,000, or jail sentences of 15 years. The act also empowers the courts to deal harshly with convicted elephant and rhino traffickers, and anyone caught dealing in the illegal trade faces a maximum fine of $233,000 or seven years in jail, Manegene said.

Last year, 302 elephants were poached in Kenya, according to Julius Kimani, deputy director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, a state organization established in 1990 to conserve and manage the country's wildlife. That number has been cut to 82 elephants so far this year. Meanwhile, two Chinese citizens have been arrested on charges of being involved in poaching and smuggling ivory, a decline from last year when the number was 15, and 2013 when 18 Chinese were caught.

In January last year, a Chinese man was arrested in Nairobi and convicted of ivory smuggling. He became the first person to feel the full force of the new laws when he was ordered to pay a fine of $233,000, or serve seven years in jail.

The KWS has a team of about 1,800 rangers to guard its 24 national reserves. In the past two years, it has recruited an extra 500 rangers and strengthened night patrols because "a lot of poaching happens at night", Kimani said.

China has also helped the anti-poaching movement, and the cordial relations between the two countries have made it easier to fight elephant and rhino poaching.

"Kenya has received a lot of support from the Chinese government and the private sector; all directed toward wildlife conservation," Manegene said.

In the last four years, Kenya has hosted at least three high-powered Chinese delegations to discuss how to stem the ivory trade and prevent the slaughter of animals for their tusks, he said. The next step will be to develop a platform via a memorandum of understanding to facilitate continuous engagement with China in conservation efforts.

Earlier this month, China donated 18 four-wheel-drive double-cabin vehicles worth more than $500,000 to the KWS to help combat the illegal wildlife trade and poaching, according to Kimani. The donation was one of a raft of promises made by Premier Li Keqiang during a visit to Kenya last year, when the Chinese Embassy donated $20,000-worth of anti-poaching equipment.

The 13-strong Chinese delegation was shocked by the sight of ivory piled up in two rooms of a heavily fortified underground storehouse. The 132 metric tons of ivory accounted for 96 percent of Kenya's entire stock derived from poached elephants, said I. K. Lubia, assistant director of enforcement and compliance affairs at the KWS. "The store has been building up since 1997. We estimate that the ivory came from 12,000 poached elephants," he said.

Training programs

The wildlife ambassadors were encouraged by Manegene's announcement that the Kenyan government plans to burn its entire stock of ivory and rhino horns before the end of the year. "In Kenya, we don't consider any wildlife product as economically valuable," he said.

The delegates also met Huang Hongxiang, a 28-year-old Chinese who has established a social venture in Nairobi to provide corporate social responsibility training programs for Chinese enterprises in the country. He also organizes wildlife conservation outings for the expat Chinese community at weekends.

"Since we started last year, we have organized more than 200 local Chinese to attend conservation activities, such as removing traps in the Nairobi National Park, and have tried to raise environmental awareness among the Chinese community," Huang said.

After visiting Nairobi, the delegation traveled to the Amboseli National Park northwest of Mount Kilimanjaro and on the border with Tanzania. Covering an area of a little more than 390 square km, and with a wild elephant population of more than 1,400, the park is renowned as the best place in the world to see elephants. At the KWS' Amboseli branch, park warden Philip K. Rono told the delegates that no elephants have been poached in the area for the past two years.

James Isiche, the IFAW's regional director for East Africa, said the IFAW has cooperated with Kenyan organizations such as the KWS to protect elephants via habitat conservation, and by improving anti-poaching measures and enforcement. "This visit to Kenya is timely, and I am delighted that the IFAW initiative is building bridges between China and African countries to combine their efforts to save elephants," he said.

During the return flight to China, a member of the delegation received a message from a Chinese volunteer ranger at the Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, who said seven elephants died recently after being poisoned at a waterhole in the park. "That's why we will further our initiative in other African countries during the next year," said the IFAW's Gabriel when she was informed of the deaths the next day.

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