The Chinese government has used a summit on wildlife poaching and ivory burning in Kenya to defend its record on fighting poaching.
President Xi Jinping told the conference in Nanyuki that his government was determined to change laws and increase punishment on smugglers because poaching had become a global concern that affects everyone.
“We take a strong stand against the illegal wildlife trade. In terms of cracking on poaching and combating smuggling, we urgently need to work together with the international community to undertake responsibilities and meet the challenges,” President Xi said in a message read by Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, Dr Liu Xianfa.
“Protecting the ecological environment and wildlife is our common responsibility.
“Africa’s special natural ecological environment is our common treasure,” he added.
China’s pronouncement came as Kenya Saturday set ablaze 105 tons of ivory, most of it confiscated on transit to the Far East, at Kenyan ports.
PUSH FOR TOTAL BAN
As the tusks went on fire, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared that Kenya will continue to push for a total ban on ivory to protect the jumbo from imminent extinction.
But China is considered the biggest ivory market globally, fuelled by a huge demand for carvings and other items made from ivory that most Chinese people have for long believed gives them a status symbol or protective charm.
Officially, the ivory allowed in should only be from elephants killed a long time ago, before a global ban was imposed in 1989.
But that occasionally allows smugglers a chance to sneak in poached ivory, according to an NGO, Save the Elephants.
China, like Kenya, is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).
Previously, the Chinese often defended their cultural heritage on the use of ivory carvings, but pressure from activists and potential for this trade to soil its growing reputation on the continent seem to have aroused a desire in authorities to act.
But Beijing says an agreement it signed in 2015 with the US government to combat poaching in Africa includes “almost completely” banning ivory trade within its territory.
“This is a commitment by China to work with all countries of goodwill and by all means to protect African wildlife,” he said.
“In recent years, due to the rising international momentum of illegal ivory poaching and smuggling, the Chinese government has already taken and is still taking a series of legal measures to combat the smuggling and illegal trade of ivory.”
ELEPHANT POPULATION DROPS
Africa’s elephant population has dropped to a quarter (420,000) of the numbers in 1980 and some countries such as Central African Republic are even facing extinction of the continent’s largest land mammal.
In Kenya, the population has dropped from 130,000 in 1970s to just around 35,000 according to the World Wildlife Fund.
During the Summit, the Chinese leader outlined measures his government was taking to limit trafficking in wildlife.
He told the audience that wildlife protection was now part of China’s next five-year Development Plan, the 13th such programme in its history.
“It emphasises that we need to maintain the diversity of wildlife, implement the rescue of rare and endangered species… taking strong stance against the illegal wildlife like ivory,” he argued.
Beijing, he said, has already publicly destroyed six tons of ivory confiscated from smugglers and in 2015 enacted two laws that outlaw importation of ivory products made from African elephants.
China was also collaborating with African authorities such as the Kenya Wildlife Service where it has given Sh60 million worth of equipment and training, besides having all Chinese companies in Africa commit to environmental conservation.
China’s challenge though, has been the ivory sourced from Hong Kong, which still allows some legal trade in ivory.
Although Hong Kong too allows ivory that was produced before the CITES ban in 1989, the World Wildlife Foundation reports that the city has a poor regulation on how to prevent traders from stocking their sales with poached ivory.
And occasionally, Chinese tourists visiting Hong Kong buy ivory products and bring them to the mainland.
SOURCE: The Nation