How China helps Africa protect its dwindling wildlife from poachers

Tuesday March 12 2013


Recently, I held a meeting with the director of Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr William Kiprono. During the cordial discussions, Mr Kiprono recognised that China’s efforts in wildlife conservation were effective and remarkable.

Anyone cursorily attributing illegal ivory trade to China was unfair and misinformed. Both of us decided China and Kenya would further strengthen cooperation in wildlife conservation and tourism.

We noted with concern that the number of certain key fauna species in Kenya is dwindling. Of great concern was the sharp increase in elephant and rhino poaching in recent years. We fully appreciate wildlife is a crucial economic resource for many countries, Kenya included.

Harmony between nature and humankind is the most important component of Chinese civilisation. The government of China has always attached great importance to wildlife conservation. Since joining the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) in 1981, China has taken resolute measures towards combating illegal ivory trade:

First, China put the African elephant on the list of “first-class wildlife species under special state protection”. Smugglers are committed to jail terms up to life imprisonment.

Second, China manages legal ivory trade very strictly. The country is a licensed buyer of the legal ivory trade regime sanctioned by Cites.

The current 62 tons of non-poached ivory stockpile in China were purchased in 2008 at an international auction. The ivory products are earmarked with unified icons and a central data base was set up to check the flow.

Third, China has established an inter-departmental law enforcement mechanism involving forestry, Customs and public security agencies. This mechanism has effectively cracked down on many smuggling cases.

Fourth, China actively promotes international co-operation against poaching. With the support of the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association, Chinese entrepreneurs donated $200,000 to the “African Elephant Conservation Fund.

“Operation Cobra” was executed by China jointly with the USA, South Africa and other organisations to fight the smuggling of endangered species in 22 African and Asian countries from January to February 2013.

A total of 6.5 tons of ivory, 26 rhino horns and other products were seized. China dispatched more than 10,000 law enforcement staff and seized more than 90 offenders. Through this action, China sent out a strong message that poachers will be severely punished for their crimes.

Fifth, China emphasises educating her citizens on wildlife conservation. Chinese visitors to Kenya automatically receive text messages from the Chinese Embassy in Kenya warning them not to engage in ivory products.

In February 2013, the Shanghai municipal government signed an agreement with Unep to use its large-screen displays and posters in subway stations to promote wildlife conservation.

As a result, Chinese citizens are responding positively, and more Chinese individuals have joined the conservation cause.

Mr Zhuo Qiang is a Chinese national who has become an international figure for his work in protecting big cats in Kenya. He hasn’t used his Chinese name for a long time; he prefers to be called “Simba”.

After quitting a good government job and leaving his wife and seven-year-old daughter in China, Simba came to Kenya in 2005 and has dedicated himself to protecting the big cats since.

He established the Masai Mara Conservation Fund, Friends of Africa Wildlife Conservation Initiative and the ICS International Volunteer Project.

Simba believes the key to success in wildlife conservation is dialogue and international co-operation. He has conducted nationwide tours in China to raise public awareness on Africa’s wildlife.

Chinese celebrities and public figures have not been left behind in the conservation effort either. Mr Yao Ming, a famous Chinese basketball player, visited Kenya in August 2012 and shot a documentary highlighting the dwindling elephant and rhino herds. It was well-received and highly praised by audiences in China and the rest of the world.

Clearly, conservation of wildlife in Kenya is of common interest to both Kenya and China. China is fully committed to making more contribution towards the protection of Africa’s wildlife and ready to strengthen co-operation with African countries, including Kenya.

Mr Liu is China’s ambassador to Kenya.