Chinese business leaders from the region and experts on China-Africa relations pledged their full support on Monday for intensified efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
Participating in a conference in Johannesburg entitled “Is the China-Africa Nexus An Emerging Partnership to Combat Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking” participants said the Chinese Government’s recent tightening up on illegal trade as well as increased access to information was fostering a greater understanding of why wildlife should be protected.
“The Chinese government is more and more concerned about the damage the constant news about the illegal wildlife trade does to China, it is not good for China,” retired diplomat Yuxiao Zhou, a former ambassador to Zambia (2011-2014), told the conference held at the University of the Witwatersrand. “We realise that things must be done quickly. Big bold steps must be taken in wildlife protection”.
In September China and the US, the worlds’ two largest markets for illegal ivory, agreed to “nearly complete” bans on all ivory imports, a move praised by conservation groups worldwide.
Former ambassador Zhou said that educating the public was an important component in curtailing trade.
“In the past many people bought ivory products but they were not being bad people, they just did not know it was wrong and we need them to get acquainted to new ideas’” he said. “To many people animal welfare is a new concept. I had never heard of it when I was young.”
Si Hai, the chairperson of the Southern Africa Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Liaison Association said that many Chinese people in South Africa, particularly newly arrived people, had limited knowledge of wildlife issues in the region but were willing to learn more and participate.
“This is the first time we have addressed wildlife issues in a forum like this. Sometime there are language issues and it is difficult to know what is right – if there is no information it can be very confusing and we need guidelines” Si Hai said. “We are willing to participate and lend support to efforts to stop illegal trade – if we can help we will certainly do so”.
The declaration pledging support for combatting illegal wildlife trade will be delivered to the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), a high-level summit meeting being held in Johannesburg this week.
Several delegates said that increased awareness of the severity of wildlife poaching and the scale of illegal trade coupled with increasing law enforcement was slowly taking effect in some areas.
“We are starting to see the effects of the Chinese government’s new stance on the illegal wildlife trade,” Andrea Crosta, of the Elephants Action League (EAL), told the conference by Skype from Amsterdam in Holland. “We will show in a report due to be released soon that for the first time ever ivory dealers in Asia are getting cagy, they are nervous because they sense a change in mood.”
He said that the EAL investigation confirmed many ivory dealers in Hong Kong and elsewhere also deal in rhino horn and that the “legal trade is completely linked to legal”. This applies to wildlife as well as products such as timber.
“Hong Kong is the most important loophole but the pressure is mounting and more pressure must be applied,” he said but added that illegal traders in Asia could not work alone. “Illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn is pushed out of Africa as much as it is pulled out. Some African countries put in little effort. What it also needs is accountability, political will and reducing corruption.”