Written by Lindy Taverner
China has traditionally been viewed as the villain in the elephant poaching crisis in Africa, being the world’s biggest end-market for poached ivory, but it is taking moves to change its image.
On 30th December 2016, China announced a total ban of the trade and processing of ivory, to be in effect by the end of 2017. Following China’s declaration, Chinese communities in Tanzania organized a ‘Walk for Elephants’ conservation event in Dar-es-Salaam on the 14th January. It was extraordinary as the event was designed to publicise the new reality of China committing to ‘No Trade, No Use’ of ivory inside China.
Tanzania has one of largest elephant populations on the African continent, but is consequently one of the worst affected by poaching. Data released by the government in June 2015, stated that between 2009 and 2014, the elephant population had dropped from 109, 051 to 43,521.
The Walk for Elephants was endorsed by the Chinese embassy in Tanzania, Tanzania-China Friendship Promotion Association, and organised by China House, Global Max Media Group and the Tanzania-China Business Association in Tanzania, with strong behind the scenes support by the Swiss Embassy, the PAMS Foundation and WildAid.
Facing the global challenge of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking, this landmark event united different communities in Tanzania to enhance mutual understanding, with 200 Chinese and 300 non-Chinese walking together, raising awareness for elephant conservation. Significant speakers included former president H.E. Benjamin Mkapa and Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Major General Gaudence Milanji.
The opening remarks for the discussion on Africa-China co-operation and wildlife conservation were made by the impressive Chinese Ambassador to Tanzania, Dr. Youqing Lv. He is well known for his outspoken manner and his unusual public rebuke in 2014 for Chinese citizens ‘bad habits’ and that officials worried constantly about people being arrested on suspicion of smuggling.
The Tanzanian-Chinese business community keenly supported the event, with over 200 Chinese people joining the 400-strong crowd. The narrative that emerged is that most Chinese are against the killing of elephants for ivory, and don’t like being stereotyped as such.
PAMS Foundation co-founder, Wayne Lotter, believes that: “the Chinese future ban on ivory trade is monumental and definitely the right thing to do. As far as impact is concerned, that will depend on the right decisions such as these, being accompanied by a thorough law enforcement programme. It is very encouraging to have China make clear positive decisions and steps to work together and be part of the solution, and it is significant that they held the March for Elephants in Tanzania today, with it being the country that has lost by far the most elephants to the illegal ivory trade.”
PAMS has been a leader with innovative strategy in supporting very effective anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts on the ground in Africa – and China House are leaders in campaigning for China to be a positive part of the solution. These two NGOs are beginning an innovative new partnership to work together on a project to have Tanzanians and Chinese citizens take hands in the struggle to save elephants.
Participating investigative journalist Hongxiang (Hong) Huang from China House and Elisifa Ngowi from the Tanzania National Task Force (NTSCIU) and PAMS Foundation, both feature as leading characters in Leonardo DiCaprio’s new film The Ivory Game. Elisifa is well known for leading groundbreaking work in reducing poaching and arresting notorious illegal wildlife traffickers in Tanzania over the last few years. Hong’s mission is to have China seen as part of the solution to the poaching crisis, as opposed to the problem. In the movie he said “the white guys are seen as the good guys; the black guys are seen as the bad guys and the Chinese are seen as the extremely bad guys. It’s time to change that stereotype.”
The documentary has scored an official selection slot at the upcoming Beijing International Film Festival, a state-run event. The film has also been shortlisted in the best documentary Oscar category this year.
The integration of these new innovations in the fight to stop the killing can give hope that the tide is turning and that, hopefully, elephants have a chance at survival after all.