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Tag Archives: tanzania
A Young Chinese Conservationist Discusses His Country’s Role in the Ivory Trade
Christina Russo, A Voice for Elephants, National Geographic
Gao Yufang, 26, is a Chinese researcher and conservationist who graduated last month with a masters from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
At Yale, Gao focused his studies on the ivory trade, with emphasis on the varied, sometimes conflicting understanding about the Chinese role in it. This, he believes, creates obstacles to stopping the slaughter of African elephants.
During the past two years Gao has conducted research in Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Hong Kong, and mainland China and analyzed nearly 3,000 Chinese news articles, as well as a large volume of statistical data on the Chinese ivory market.
Last December, at the invitation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Botswana government, he spoke as a youth ambassador at the African Elephant Summit in Botswana.
This month, Gao will be returning to China and hosting two African conservationists—Resson Kantai and Christopher Kiarie, also in their 20s—on a tour of China’s ivory markets.
Russo: Tell me about your forthcoming trip to China.
Gao: The three of us are going to Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Quanzhou, Fuzhou, and Shanghai. These are the main ivory trading centers in China. We’re going to visit these cities and talk to the general public, the Chinese media, and Chinese conservation groups about elephant conservation. We hope to create a China-Africa conservation fellowship.
Do you think youth are particularly important in this conversation?
Many people, even in the Chinese conservation community, are not participating in elephant conservation or talking about the ivory trade. Because of the lack of participation from Chinese civil society, there’s lots of misinformation about the Chinese ivory trade. Most of the ivory researchers are not Chinese.
My generation—the youth generation—is the most active group in Chinese society. With this trip, we are trying to create the opportunity for youth to participate, because actually they’re really keen and energetic and enthusiastic about elephant conservation when they learn about it. If we provide them the opportunity, they will take it.
What led you to study the ivory trade while you were at Yale?
When I came to Yale in September 2012, everyone was talking about ivory trade. As a Chinese in the U.S. who understood how the conservation community in China works, I was seeing a great gap in understanding the ivory trade. I felt that people were—and are—talking past each other. So I got curious: What is really going on here? And this curiosity motivated me to take on the ivory trade project.
What did you notice about the way China, the U.S., and Africa “spoke” to each other about the trade and the poaching crisis?
What I found is one of the major obstacles for solving this elephant poaching problem is that each party has a very different view about the motivations and constraints of the other parties.
What are some of the misperceptions from Africa’s perspective about China?
Africa’s perspective is influenced by the West’s perspective. Many African conservationists have never been to China, and what they know about the ivory trade is usually from the news media or Western international conservation organizations.
In this Western narrative, most people believe elephant poaching is caused by Chinese demand for ivory. Also, that China’s economic development has created a large middle class and this middle class buys ivory for social status.
Is this true?
If you say hundreds of millions of Chinese middle class [people] are demanding ivory, this is an exaggeration of the ivory market in China.
The majority of the Chinese never see ivory in daily life. In my research, I estimate that over 99 percent of Chinese never buy ivory, and the potential ivory buyers are less than one percent of the Chinese population.
The problem is that China has a very large population, so even a small percentage can have a great impact. Ivory is a tiny industry in China, and Chinese government officials say they’re worried about the counterproductive impacts of this exaggeration. But it is also true that China does bear an inescapable responsibility in the trade.
You have found that this concept of the “middle class” itself is somewhat misguided. You explain it’s more specific than that, and the primary ivory buyers are the baofahu or tuhao.
Yes, the Western media and conservation organizations talk about the middle class, but it is actually more specific. From a typical Chinese perception, the baofahu and tuhao are the major buyers of ivory. The charactersistics of the baofahu or tuhao are that they are very rich—but also very uneducated—and they want to show off their social status.
This is still not the whole picture, because the ivory market in China is very diverse. Attributing the problem to baofahu underestimates ivory consumption, while attributing the problem to [the] middle class overestimates the ivory demand. The truth is in the middle.
Photograph by Robert Sutcliffe/Elephants Without Borders
Please talk about the ivory markets in China.
There are three types: the white, the black, and the gray.
The white market is the legal ivory market. The black market is the illegal market. The gray market [is] where the legality is uncertain.
So the white market consists of 145 ivory shops and ivory repair outlets and 37 ivory factories. Most of these facilities are located in the eastern part of China, especially Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. And the number of these legal ivory facilities has increased from 40 in 2004 to 182 in 2014.
Many Western NGOs and media have already talked about the legal market. And some researchers and journalists went to investigate the legal market and found a lot of loopholes and violations of the ivory identification and registration policy.
The black market takes two forms, and the first is the physical market. The other is the online market. In the past few years, the Chinese government has tightened control of the physical black market. So what I found is that many ivory dealers are now shifting their business to online trading.
One of the main forms of online trading is the Baidu Post Bar. Ivory traders will sell the ivory by using some [other] word—they don’t say it’s “ivory” but will say it’s “white plastic,” for example. Every day people visit the bar, and the illegal ivory traders post photos of raw ivory or worked ivory. And they ask potential consumers to contact them and communicate on Wechat, which is the Chinese version of WhatsApp. The illegal dealers will then send the ivory to the buyers.
Is this bar internationally used, or just domestically?
The bar is an Internet platform, so everyone around the world, as long as they can read Chinese, can go to the website. But the trade is within China. Chinese dealers sell the illegal ivory to Chinese buyers. Some dealers have direct connections with middlemen in Africa.
Tell me about the gray market.
The gray market is the live auction market of ivory art works. I feel this is very important. Sometimes, when talking about the auction market in China, many conservationists, especially English-speaking conservationists, confuse this with the online auction. This is a live, off-line market.
Why is this off-line market so important?
This is where the big money is. In the gray market, the current ivory registration and identification system doesn’t distinguish antique ivory from new ivory. But the ivory collectors do distinguish antique and new ivory. And antique ivory is the most expensive.
According to the Chinese ivory control policy, all ivory in China can only be sold in the white market, the legal market. But because the auction market is a very new thing, it is not well regulated.
How does this gray market affect the ivory trade and poaching?
The trade trend of ivory at the off-line market started to increase around 2006, mushroomed after 2009, and then peaked in 2011. After 2011 it suddenly diminished.
Before 2011, the trend of the ivory gray market is significantly correlated to elephant poaching in Africa. The price can be incredibly high in the gray market. The Chinese media, when they talk about the ivory market, usually [mean] the auction market. So those ivory carvings that achieve an incredibly high price bring lots of attention from the media, and this in turn increases the perception that ivory is a good investment. People anticipate that if they buy an ivory carving at this moment, in the future it’s going to make a lot of money.
Another step in my research is to understand the conditions that caused the different trends in the three markets. May I explain this?
Many conservation groups, animal welfare groups, and the media believe the 2009 CITES one-off sale stimulated ivory demand. This is the perception of many reports. But I’m not satisfied with this. To understand what caused ivory demand in China, we need to understand why Chinese buy ivory. We need to understand the different values of ivory in Chinese perception.
Chinese society has attached many values to ivory. The economic value of carved ivory as a good investment is the first. The second is the social value of ivory. The third is the cultural value of ivory as a traditional art. Ivory carving in 2006 was officially designated as a national intangible cultural heritage. The fourth value is the esthetic value—those who believe ivory is very beautiful, the necklaces and bangles they think are very pretty. The fifth is the religious value, such as ivory statues and guru beads, Buddhist ivory pendants, and statues of Quan Yin. The last is the medical value. Some people believe that if you wear ivory bangles, for example, it’s good for your health.
It’s also important that we understand the social change that promoted some of these values. I identified two trends.
The first was the preservation of traditional culture. In 2002 the Chinese authorities started to recognize the importance of protecting traditional culture, and there were lots of initiatives launched to protect this, and ivory carving is just one. The carvers seized on this opportunity, and ivory carving became an official national intangible cultural heritage in 2006. This increased the cultural value of ivory, and it’s one reason the authorities would like to have the ivory trade.
The second, and most important, trend is the boom of arts investment in China, especially after 2008 and 2009, because around this time the stock market and real estate market didn’t perform as well as expected. So people started to invest in many forms of arts and antiques and collectibles, and this included furniture, paintings, antique books, and ivory.
This art market is related to the gray market, because the auction market is an important channel for liquidation [of] investment[s]. The arts investment boom increased the value of ivory as an investment alternative that has driven ivory demand in China.
But in 2011 the authorities imposed an ivory auction off-line ban. A lot of Chinese news articles talked about this ban, but the English media rarely talk about this. This is important: Because of this ban, the ivory gray market suddenly diminished, and the [price] increase of ivory slowed down.
Some groups in China are now lobbying to drop the ban. The problem is that because it’s poorly regulated, new ivory can enter the market and can be fabricated to look antique.
In your research, did you come to understand whether Chinese buyers of ivory know—or care—that elephants are being killed for the their ivory?
Professional ivory investors know a lot about ivory, and they know a lot about elephant poaching. They distinguish the different types of ivory—they say it’s yellow, white, or blood ivory, and they have different explanations for each kind.
Some of these professional investors openly say that blood ivory is from [a] poached elephant. And the ivory was got when the elephant was still alive. Of all the kinds of ivory, blood ivory is the most expensive. So they know exactly where the ivory comes from.
But the general public, who simply buy ivory because of, say, its esthetic value, I believe they don’t know the ivory came from poached elephants. They simply consider ivory the same as other beautiful jewelry, like jade.
So let me get this straight. From everything you are telling me, Chinese professional investors and art collectors are the most influential group driving the trade in your opinion?
But we must distinguish between collectors and investors. Investors care about money. Collectors also care about cultural value and esthetic value. And the collectors, some of them are really good people. They want ivory from legal source[s]. The collectors can be very law abiding.
When you graduated from Yale, you decorated your hat in honor of Mountain Bull, an iconic Kenyan elephant who was recently killed for his ivory.
At Yale we have a tradition of decorating our hats. People know me as “the elephant guy.” So I put an elephant on my head, and at that time Mountain Bull was killed.
I feel I have the responsibility to help elephant conservation in Africa. I’ve received a lot of support from many, many people, and it’s those people, the ones who are motivated by their genuine love for the elephants, that most encourage me.
I realize this problem is very complicated. Many people here in the U.S. care a lot about [the] elephant because of its intrinsic value and because they feel a moral responsibility or they want to protect [it] for the next generation. But Africans may have different concerns—about livelihood and issues about development and well-being. You cannot simply impose your own values and ask them to have the same feeling you do.
So what I’m trying to do is to listen to the different actors, whether U.S. rich people or local African people who are suffering from conflict with elephants and must think about next meals or the Chinese who care about culture. I try to understand all this, and how we can bring people together to find common ground. I really believe ensuring a viable future for elephants is the common interest for the global community.
12th May 2014
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has said that community-based natural resource management is a key long-term solution to elephant poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
According to UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, communities living near national parks and game reserves are crucial in the fight against poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
“Everyone in a community, including women, youth and the elderly, has a role to play to ensure long term sustainability of their communities and wildlife close to protected areas. Community based initiatives must be supported to generate income for rural people and help diversify incomes through tourism and other service sectors,” she said after meeting with people in the vicinity of Ruaha National Park in Iringa Region yesterday.
The UNDP official met with people from some of the 21 villages adjacent to the park.
Through UNDP’s support, the project conducted a census that showed that elephants in the Ruaha-Rungwe ecosystem decreased from 31,625 in 2009 to just 20,090 in 2013.
The project has initiated a number of actions to support the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism to develop a national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking.
On Friday last week Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu said the government is in need of assistance from the international community to adequately implement its anti-poaching drive.
The appeal for help follows government’s preparation of a national anti-
poaching strategy which was to be unveiled last week but will instead be launched in the coming days.
“We are planning to work with different donors so that they can assist us in this fight. Their involvement is crucial to curbing the problem,” the minister said.
“Poaching didn’t start yesterday. It has been there for decades,” he said.
He said data on poach showed a 54 percent decline in March, this year, compared to the same period last year.
“Poaching is not all gone… we are still working on it, and as we are here there are some people who are planning to poach but if we cooperate we will win this battle,” said the minister.
The chairman of the parliamentary committee on Lands, Natural Resources and Environment, James Lembeli said people living in the vicinity of conservation areas are poor and need to be empowered so that they can actively participate in the fight against poaching.
Organised crime gangs generate staggering profits smuggling ivory and rhino horn
Published: 15:33 March 23, 2014
Nairobi: Organised crime gangs in East Africa are generating staggering profits smuggling ivory and rhino horn with impunity, experts say, threatening both an irreplaceable wildlife heritage and key tourism industries.
Kenyan and Tanzanian ports are the “primary gateway” for ivory smuggled to Asia, where demand is fuelled by increasingly affluent markets, especially in China, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warns.
Last year, seizures of ivory shipments reached “record levels”, according to a recent Interpol report.
“Large-scale ivory shipments — each one representing the slaughter of hundreds of elephants — point to the involvement of organised crime networks operating across multiple countries,” Interpol said.
Organised gangs with insider knowledge and armed with automatic weapons and specialised equipment such as night vision goggles, brazenly use chainsaws to carve out the rhino horn or remove elephant tusks.
Veteran Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey has now warned that drastic action must be taken, saying that known ringleaders in Kenya are operating with “outrageous impunity”.
The rise in poaching, with animals being slaughtered inside even the most heavily guarded national parks or conservation areas, show that the poachers have little fear of tough new laws designed to stem the wave of killings, he said.
“They could not operate with the impunity we are seeing if you did not have some form of protection from law enforcement agencies,” Leakey said, as he made an appeal for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to take action.
“It is a problem of a few criminals… the ringleaders are known,” he added, claiming that a core group of around 20 to 30 people were organising the mass poaching but that none had faced justice.
It’s a lucrative business: a kilo of ivory is worth some $850 (Dh3,121) in Asia, with UNODC suggesting ivory smuggled to Asia from Eastern Africa was worth over $31 million in 2011.
But such short-term and finite profits generated by the spate of killings are threatening the far more valuable tourism industry, which in Kenya and Tanzania is the second largest foreign exchange earner after agriculture.
“The African elephant is not currently deemed ‘endangered’ as a species, but its decimation in Eastern Africa could be devastating,” UNODC’s report read.
“In addition to the reduction in genetic diversity, its loss could seriously undermine local tourist revenues, a key source of foreign exchange for many of the countries of the region.”
But the region’s two large container ports — Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania — are also notorious trafficking hubs, funnelling more elephant tusks to Asia than all of central, southern and west African nations combined.
The two nations made up almost two-thirds of all large shipments of ivory seized across the entire continent from 2009-2011, according to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a tracking database run by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
Seizures of containers crammed full of tusks — often hidden under foul-smelling fish or dried chili peppers in a bid to confuse sniffer dogs or discourage detailed searches — are regularly found.
Much of the ivory smuggled is destined for China, whose rapidly growing economy has encouraged those enjoying disposable income to splash out on an ivory trinket as a sign of financial success.
“Growing affluence in China, where possession of elephant ivory remains a status symbol, appears to have rendered China the world’s leading destination for illicit ivory,” the UNODC report added.
The smuggling of rhino horns is a bigger problem for Southern Africa, which has far more of the endangered animals. It is often done by air, due to the value of the horn and its smaller size.
But scores of East African rhinos are also being killed despite wildlife rangers often risking their lives to protect them.
But many escape justice: a recent study by the Kenyan conservation campaign group Wildlife Direct found that just four percent of those convicted of wildlife crime in the past spent time in jail.
Tanzania last year launched a crackdown on suspected poachers, operating under what was reported to be a shoot-to-kill policy and making sweeping arrests.
Leakey, 69, a Kenyan national and former head of the government’s Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), said with the “right management” stemming the poaching was “not an impossible” task.
He was key in stemming the rampant poaching of the late 1980s, bringing in extreme measures to combat poachers including sending helicopter gunships into national parks, and organising the iconic burning of stockpiled ivory.
“It is not valuable, it is tragic rubbish,” Leakey said, waving an ivory carving seized from a smuggler, the tiny tusk of a baby elephant.
“It is putting at risk our heritage… you can regrow a crop but you cannot regrow a wildlife species that disappears.”
This article can be found in this link:
Tanzania Daily News
20 March 2014
Poaching for elephant tusks and rhino horns in Tanzanian wildlife sanctuaries is such a lucrative business. All criminal poachers know this.
It is a money spinner that has enticed illegal hunters from as far afield as Somalia and China. For them, it is easy to wander into Tanzania’s National Parks, shoot elephants and rhinos, dislodge the tusks and horns and shunt them out of the country with little or no harassment at all, especially when you rope in corrupt local wildlife officials.
And of course, the price of the contraband is a complete rip-off especially in the Arab World or India. Poachers at home and abroad know this. Well, those who join the fray are seriously wrong. Tanzania is all out to flush out poachers to protect its wildlife come what may.
Poachers now pay a hefty price for their folly. Early this week, a Chinese national, one Yu Bo, was thrown into jail for 20 years after failing to pay a fine of 9bn/- for unlawful possession of government trophies worth more than 978m/-.
The convict pleaded guilty to the offence rather readily knowing that he could not go the distance in the legal wrangle. It is unthinkable that a Chinese national or any other foreigner should enter any of our national parks and engage in poaching.
Senior Resident Magistrate Devota Kisoka told the offending Chinese man that she imposed a harsh sentence on him so it serves as deterrence against poaching in this country. She was right. Too many criminals are out there intent on poaching.
It is the greed for money that drives poachers into our game reserves. President Jakaya Kikwete told the nation recently that poaching has reached disheartening proportions. He said that the elephant population has plummeted to 13,084 from around 38,000 in 2009.
Indeed, poachers must be stopped in their tracks. Elephants, rhinos and other wild animals should be given chance to thrive. The president said that the nation was scaling up its anti-poaching campaigns. Yes, this is the action that must be taken drastically.
Former campaigns such as Kipepeo and Tokomeza made some gains but did not stem the rot. More than 2,000 suspected poachers were arrested and their weapons, including hunting rifles and ammunition were impounded. The criminals got a good hammering.
This was a move in the right direction but the mission was not accomplished fully. The poachers are out of their lair again and are gunning down elephants and rhinos with complete abandon. What is needed now is a sustainable anti-poaching campaign.
By Faustine Kapama, Tanzania Daily News
A CHINESE national, Yu Bo (45), was jailed for 20 years after failing to pay a 9bn/ fine for possessing government trophies worth over 978m/- unlawfully.
The verdict has come at a time when the government has vowed to leave no stone unturned in the effort to curb poaching in the country. Senior Resident Magistrate Devota Kisoka of the Kisutu Resident Magistrates’ Court in Dar es Salaam convicted the Chinese on his own plea of guilty.
She said that she was imposing such severe sentence to serve as a lesson to others who might be tempted to engage in poaching or act as accomplices to the crime.
“The accused person is sentenced to pay 9,781,204,900/-. In default, he should serve 20 years imprisonment,” the magistrate declared after considering the mitigation factors and plea for leniency.
Bo had told the court that it was his first time to be convicted in a criminal case, further saying that he had several dependants. But the prosecution, led by Senior State Attorney Faraja Nchimbi, prayed for a severe sentence “due to the seriousness of the offence.”
Case details had it that the convict entered the country for business purposes on November 26, last year. Shortly after his arrival, he initiated communications with a syndicate of poachers within and outside Tanzania for the purpose of poaching elephants and other animals, including ground pangolins.
In the process, the convict and other poachers who are yet to be arrested managed to collect 81 elephant tusks and two ground pangolin scales, which were eventually hidden at Mwenge in Kinondoni District.
The accused had neither authority nor permit from the Director of Wildlife Division allowing him to possess the said ivory tusks and the ground pangolin scales. On the evening of December 30, last year, Bo loaded the government trophies on a pick-up vehicle.
Together with a variety of wood carvings, Bo then ferried the said trophies to the Dar es Salaam Port with intent to ship them to the People’s Republic of China. On arrival at port’s gate at around 20:30pm, he sought permission to go to one of the ships.
By Lawi Joel,Tanzania Daily News
POACHING of the wildlife in the country has become a runaway evil that allegedly enriches politicians and civil servants in the corridors of power.
Despite people’s hollers — that population of the rare and endangered species like rhinos, leopards and the elephants are declining fast, national efforts to curb the illegal trade have not made a dent in the vice as more ivory is seized almost every too often.
For some reason, ivory and rhino horn trade has recently spiralled, prompting the government and stakeholders to step up the fight against poaching. But the fight is proving futile as poaching apparently escalates.
President Kikwete told Parliament recently that at independence, the country had an elephant population of 350,000, but hardly twenty years later, the number declined to 55,000.
Quite a drastic fall! Evidently, attempts to check poaching have failed as by 2009, only 10,000 elephants remained in the country. Sometime last year, the government reacted with Operation Tokomeza, an exercise to check poaching and unearth illegal foreigners to bolster security in the country.
But the operation made merely a slight impact on poaching and was seriously mal-implemented by various authorities. The government responded by stopping the operation.
Seemingly, poachers waited for the government’s fury to abate and no sooner had the operation stopped, they killed more than 60 elephants.
The arrest of three Chinese nationals in Dar es Salaam last November with a stockpile of 797 tusks proved that poaching was a free-for-all illegal business.
However, it was a bitter truth for the nation’s economy because that entire trophy meant 400 elephants had been killed. Poachers apparently took advantage of the government’s laxity in fighting the crime.
Critics would have it no other way more than the accusation that the state organs are not being responsible enough.
Whatever reasons given, poaching of the country’s wildlife has alarmingly increased, posing a bleak future for various endangered species. Events have shown that when the authorities are keen in their work of preventing poaching, the elephant population and those of other species threatened with disappearance, increase.
In 1987, when the government launched a major anti-poaching operation, the slaughter of elephants in the country declined sharply and the numbers increased from 55,000 in 1989 to 110,000 in 2009.
Evidence shows that a ban on ivory trade favours increase of elephants. When in the mid-20th century the number of tuskers declined to about 600, 000 from millions by the end of the 1980s, the International trade in ivory was banned in 1989.
The sudden, drastic fall in elephants’ population in 2009 shows that something is seriously amiss with the relevant authorities. Various reasons are advanced for the escalation of ivory trade.
Its market in China and elsewhere in the Far East is alleged to have grown. But the government does not have the wherewithal to adequately check poaching, not only in its biggest national game reserve– Selous, with the size of 232,535 square kilometres — the size of United Kingdom, but in other reserves and game parks as well.
“A new census at the Selous- Mikumi ecosystem has revealed that the elephant population had plummeted to just 13,084 from 38,975 in 2009, representing a 66-per cent decline,” he said in the report.
Endorsing the government’s fear — that it was fighting a losing battle — was a seizure of 20 tonnes of ivory within a period of only three years – from 2010 to 2013. Game Rangers to fight poaching in game reserves are small in number and are overwhelmed by the huge patrolling task of the wild land.
Poachers have taken the government’s inadequacies and wreaked havoc on the wildlife, decimating populations of endangered species to significant numbers. Late last year, the president gave at the State House in Dar es Salaam a report that portrayed the enormity of the problem.
In this scenario, Tanzania obviously needs assistance to fight poaching. Nations which stand well to provide that assistance are its big political and economical friends like China, America and the UK.
The states can help eradicate market for ivory and other wildlife trophies within them. In that regard, Kikwete has roundly stated: “We need technical assistance, funding and technology to … enable us to employ more game rangers and to give us modern technology to tackle poachers.”
However, allegation that stalwart politicians and other government officials in position of power participate in poaching of wildlife, shows that fighting the evil is both a complicated and difficult war.
Rangers have been implicated in poaching and recently some of them were fired for involvement in the illicit business. Even more tarnishing to the government is allegation that police officers too, take part in the dirty and disastrous activity.
The undertone here is that corruption is the major obstacle in the whole in the fight against poaching. One thing is certain here.
With the apparent laxity and the present reign of greed for fast riches, the elephant is certainly on its way out into oblivion, and if any friend can and must help, it is China.