Sunday, August 24, 2014

CHINA: TO SAVE AFRICA'S ANIMALS, SHUT DOWN YOUR ILLEGAL TROPHY MARKETS

China is one of Africa's most significant investment partners, and pumps billions of US dollars every year to fund development projects there, as it explores African mines for minerals for its industries, but the populous country is also the biggest contributor to the annihilation of the continent's big game.

With a population of 1.3 billion people, the Asian giant consumes the largest amount of illegal elephant tusks and rhino horns poached from Africa's game reserves. In South East Asia, these products are in great demand as aphrodisiacs, and as medicines for strokes, nosebleeds, convulsions and fever.

It is estimated that last year alone, 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa and their 40,000 tusks transported illegally to China, Thailand, Japan and Hong-Kong, among other countries.

Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa, and Botswana and South Africa in Southern Africa, have been identified by international conservationists as some of the countries hardest hit by poaching. According to a recent study conducted by George Wittemyer of the Colorado State University in the US, in collaboration with others, Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania alone has seen a drop of its elephant population from 40,000 to 13,000 in the past three years. The situation in the neighboring Kenya is not any better.

In many of the afflicted countries, corruption is blamed for the poaching menace. Poachers and dealers collude with wildlife management officials, security agents and customs officials to smuggle out large consignments of animal products. When caught and taken to court, they use bribes to manipulate judiciary officials in exchange for light bail conditions and lenient sentences.

In recent years, a number of Chinese nationals have being caught with wildlife products in Kenya. The sad thing is that most of those caught ended up paying small fines and getting away without much sweat. Only one Chinese national is so far known to be doing prison time - two and half years, for attempting to smuggle elephant products out of the country.

Poaching and smuggling of ivory are a billion-dollar industry believed to be run and controlled by international crime syndicates. It has been established that these cartels provide the advanced technology equipment in use by poachers, including helicopters, darting equipment, night vision scopes, and weapons with silencers. It is these syndicates too that are suspected to be funding terrorist activities in Africa and beyond.

It is my view that other than drug trafficking, the ivory trade poses the biggest challenge to the survival of humanity in Africa. It destroys a country's national resources and interferes with economic growth since many African countries depend on wildlife and tourism for survival.

Recently, the Chinese government made a token donation of anti-poaching equipment to Kenya to demonstrate its seriousness in dealing with poaching; but what the Chinese government must do is to shut down its internal market for these products and destroy all stock-piles of ivory that exist in the country. It must also be willing to collaborate fully with African countries in identifying and arresting those Chinese nationals responsible for involvement in this trade.

Short of this, Beijing authorities will only be paying lip-service to Africa on conservation matters, as it continues to exploit the continent's raw materials for its economic growth.

And that is my say.