Tag Archives: Chinese citizens

Attacking critics does not change the fact that China is the main consumer of blood ivory

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa

Mar 03, 2014
The mudslinging by Chinese officials, blaming western media and by implication the conservation fraternity at large for negative publicity over the sharp increase in elephant slaughter in Africa, and as being intended to drive a wedge between them and Africa, appears largely misguided, considering the facts at hand.

Those facts are that wherever Chinese companies are engaged in infrastructure projects or in mining in Africa, poaching in the vicinity of their labor camps has gone up. Fact is that over 90 percent of those  arrested at African airports, found with blood ivory in their possession, are Chinese citizens. Fact is that for years have Chinese authorities happily sat on the fence and let their citizens fuel the elephant slaughter by turning a blind eye on the illegal trade. Fact is that most blood ivory cargos intercepted were destined for China.

True enough, there has been a little movement of late, as Chinese authorities have had to face up to growing global opposition in regard of the illegal ivory trade, but so far little more than cosmetic change  has taken place.

The destruction recently of 6 tons of ivory cannot be described as anything else but a token show and Africa’s conservation fraternity demands a lot more positive action, such as banning trade and possession in China of blood ivory altogether and enforce strengthened laws with vigor, just the same as poachers of their prized Panda bears, once convicted in court, face the death penalty.

Conservationists also rejected the notion that they were intent to spoil China’s ‘good name’ or interfere with the business of Chinese companies in Africa, but insisted that the links between the presence of Chinese companies in Africa and the relevant time frames of their arrival vis-a-vis the increase in poaching, are hard to ignore.

“Instead of mouthing off the Chinese should show cause to support conservation in Africa. For too long they ignored our complaints and what their citizens do in Africa. They thought they can get away with it but when they realized that this is biting them in the a** they slowly and apparently very grudgingly started to face up to the music. Their government inaction made them complicit in the illegal trade, turning a blind eye on the fact how many Chinese were arrested with blood ivory, how many shipments were intercepted enroute to or at the borders with China speak louder than their feeble utterances,” said a source from Arusha when discussing the response by Chinese authorities made through the Director General for African Affairs in the Chinese foreign ministry.

Others though cautiously welcomed Chinas’ apparent change in position and suggested the Chinese need more “encouragement” now than just blunt opposition after losing too much of their proverbial “face” already over their alleged complicity in the mass slaughter of African elephants.

In Tanzania in particular but across the elephant range states have elephant herds been decimated in recent years, as the growing wealth in China fueled a relentlessly expanding demand for ivory trinkets, which supposedly improved social standing and was used to display newly found riches to their peers. It is there, on the demand side, where Chinese government’s actions in strengthening laws and strictly enforcing existing laws is crucially important as only lesser demand will curb poaching from its present levels.

Death in China, one dollar in Africa – the irony of ivory poaching penalties

SHARON VAN WYK, Daily Maverick

23 Oct 2013

In China the penalty for poaching an elephant is death. In Africa, it is considerably less. The irony in this is that the global trade in illegal ivory is driven, for the most part, by China, some of whose citizens are helping to lay waste to Africa’s elephants, largely without fear of retribution. By SHARON VAN WYK.

Earlier this year a Chinese smuggler, apprehended in Kenya whilst in transit from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong, was fined a mere US$350 for the haul of 439 pieces of ivory found in his possession before being released. That’s less than US$1 apiece.

This one incident illustrates perhaps the biggest challenge facing those battling to save Africa’s elephant population from almost certain extinction at the hands of ivory poachers – outdated, and in some cases woefully inadequate legislation and penalties which, rather than acting as a deterrent, actually encourage poaching.

Add to the mix corruption and political malfeasance at virtually every level of government, and the word extinction looms larger than ever, unless swift action is taken by African countries to improve the laws supposedly protecting their wildlife. Justice is most certainly not on the side of elephants.

In Kenya the current wildlife act caps punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes at a maximum fine of 40,000 Kenyan shillings (around US$470), and a possible jail term of up to 10 years. With a black market price of as much as US$7,000 per kilogram, it is infinitely affordable to get caught with your fingers in the ivory jar. Which is what happened to four Chinese citizens who were apprehended attempting to smuggle thousands of dollars’ worth of ivory out of Kenya. Their punishment? Each was allowed to pay a US$340 fine and then go free.

Kenya is far from alone. In neighbouring Uganda, poachers are punished on the same level as petty criminals with small fines or suspended sentences. In Gabon a woeful maximum one-year sentence or approximately US$40,000 awaits convicted poachers, including repeat offenders, while wildlife traffickers in the Republic of Congo face up to five years in jail and risk having their sentence doubled if they are found to be repeat offenders.

Court punishment for a convicted elephant poacher in Tanzania can be as little as US$13. Tanzanian officials have said that in 670 cases tried between March 2012 and March this year, fines totalling US$109,377 were incurred. That’s an average of just under US$164 per case.

The recent cyanide poisoning of waterholes in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park by ivory poachers, which claimed the lives of more than 90 elephants, was met with surprisingly swift retribution by the country’s wildlife authorities, with three poachers each sentenced to 16 years behind bars and a collective massive fine of US$800,000.

However, recent reports from the Zimbabwe press suggest that the reason for this unusually harsh (for Zimbabwe) punishment is to deflect attention away from possible high-ranking government involvement in the killing.

The question, then, is whether it is possible to get it right in the fight against the ivory trade. In this respect African states can take their lead from Botswana, where effective anti-poaching is supported by strong leadership and political will from President Ian Khama and an effective judiciary, backed by tough wildlife legislation and strong involvement of the military. Indeed, the Botswana Defense Force is deployed to protect not just elephants, but all of the country’s wildlife.

Elephant range states are being urged to give similar unequivocal commitment to the implementation of necessary legislation, law enforcement and deterrent penalties needed to stem elephant poaching and the related illegal trade and trafficking in ivory at the forthcoming International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Government of Botswana Emergency African Elephant Summit which is being held in Botswana’s capital of Gaborone from December 2-4 this year.

The Summit is being hosted by President Khama and will bring together heads of state and representatives from both African elephant range states and key ivory trade transit and destination countries. DM

Sharon van Wyk is an award-winning conservation writer and wildlife documentary maker and works with the Conservation Action Trust – www.conservationaction.co.za