China Driving Wildlife Crisis
The recent seizure of 645 illegally obtained and trafficked wolf pelts from Greece at Beijing’s Capital International Airport is a commendable act by the China’s General Administration of Customs. Together with other recent seizures of elephant tusks and rhino horns in Hong Kong, the Chinese government has shown the world its growing efforts to combat the illicit wildlife trade.
These recent actions are particularly laudable because China occupies a pivotal strategic position in the global fight for wildlife protection.
China is rich in biodiversity, and is a top market for wildlife and its parts. Effective enforcement of China’s Law on the Protection of Wildlife and honoring its obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species serve to protect Chinese indigenous species and those in other countries.
In recent years, China has faced the daunting task of stopping the influx of wildlife contraband and protecting the threatened species within its national borders. Chinese authorities have faced a challenging situation that has invited misunderstanding and, oftentimes, accusations.
Historically and globally, demand for expensive wildlife products follows economic prosperity. China’s rise as an economic superpower has brought with it new “status vices.” Some people with income to spare spend it on lavish and often outlandish wildlife luxury goods like rhino horn and elephant ivory. While economic prosperity is good for a nation and its people, it may spell doom for wildlife species.
China is not immune to this problem and is not alone. The US and other countries went through similar episodes during their economic development.
With the global economic balance of power shifting eastward, the rising purchasing power in East Asia has made it a new destination for illegal ivory and other wildlife products.
Ivory carving is a time-honored skill in East Asia and Southeast Asia. Governments in this rapidly modernizing region are engaged in finding a way to balance preserving cultural traditions while safeguarding the Earth’s rarest creatures for future generations. Today, all ivory carving facilities in China must be approved by the government.
A long-running debate on the Chinese Internet asks if elements of cultural tradition must evolve with the new challenges faced in the contemporary era.
There are voices for passing the ivory-carving skill to the younger generation. However, it is a shortsighted choice to allow questionable traditional practices to continue if it causes negative impact on the long-term sustainability of the global ecosystem.
China’s implementation of an ivory product identification system represents a political determination to discourage the expansion of the ivory-carving business, a wise policy decision.
As the single biggest investor in Africa, China bears responsibility to the continent’s people and wildlife.
Demand in East Asia for ivory, rhino horn and other animal products needs to be addressed, both through education and enforcement.
Moonlighting as an ivory trader, out of ignorance or deliberately, violates international laws, and is costly and hugely irresponsible. It can also damage the reputation of the law-abiding Chinese business community working hard to expand its rightful operations in the continent.
Furthermore, reports of the involvement of organized militia and terrorist groups in elephant poaching are highly troubling and could fuel instability and undermine regional security. This concerns the national interest of many countries including China.
A series of Chinese government initiatives, international partnerships, strengthened customs enforcement, and increased Chinese public concern provide strong evidence of change in the country.
As a vital force in the global alliance for wildlife protection, China’s growing commitment and efforts to combat illicit trafficking can save elephants and rhinos from extinction, while inviting global commendation for its efforts.