By Kenyan journalist Lenah Bosibori, first published on TalkAfrica.
The Chinese government has completely closed down its domestic ivory market leading to the rise of African elephants in the wild. In Kenya the Chinese Government has provided state of the art equipment like night optics, camouflage gear, funding, vehicles for patrolling and tents.
Chinese President Xi Jinping made the announcement in September 2015 in a move that was widely celebrated by wildlife conservation organisations across the world. Since then the Asian nation has taken actions to help reduce poaching and fund conservation efforts in several African countries.
Back in China, some charity organizations have been carrying out campaigns to educate the ordinary citizens on how illegal ivory trade in their country is threatening the African elephant. As a consequence of these actions, prices of ivory have dropped at alarming rates in Hong Kong.
According to undercover investigators from the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC), in 2015 raw ivory was priced at an average of US$1,322 per kg, by October 2016 the price had dropped to $750 per kg, and by February 2017 prices were as much as 50% lower overall, at $660 per kg.
“Kenya stands on top since the closure of this market, poaching has significantly dropped between 2013 and 2016 as a result of this audacious move,” said Julius Kimani, the Acting Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) during an interview.
Kimani also revealed that 390 elephants were killed in Kenya in 2013 and the number dropped to 96 elephants and 14 rhinos in 2016. “In 2017 nine rhinos and less than 60 elephants were killed, we are very happy and excited about this milestone, we are now checking to see whether traffickers will relocate to other elephant range states in the continent,” said Kimani.
According to Kimani, there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in place between them Kenyan and the Chinese governments that will be formalised before June 2018.
“We believe that they will bring to us their advanced equipment like the ones used in surveillance. I am urging them to do a survey of our roads before assisting us with vehicles so that they can provide the models that are conducive to our terrain,” Kimani remarked.
In Kenya where the population of elephants is estimated at 39,000, poaching of these iconic mammals has reached a historic low thanks to China’s technical and financial support. From the beginning of 2018, China has also enforced a ban on commercial processing and sale of ivory products, ushering in a new era in the protection of Africa’s elephants whose population is currently estimated at 420,000.
The local legislative council at the government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passed and gazetted the Endangered Species of Animals and Plants (Amendment) Bill, also known as the Hong Kong Ivory Bill.
This Bill will help take forward a three-step plan to enhance regulations on import and re-export of ivory and elephant hunting trophies and to phase out the local ivory trade. It also seeks to increase the penalties under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586) to provide a stronger deterrent against the smuggling and illegal trading of endangered species.
In the past three years, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been the leading sources of ivory that is trafficked illegally to leading markets in Asia.
“We are very proud of the Chinese government in their move to close down its domestic market, we encourage other countries in the illegal business of poaching to follow suit and help protect our endangered species,” remarked Robert Godec, the outgoing US Ambassador to Kenya.
According to KWS, the government of China has started fulfilling its promise of helping Kenya to protect its endangered species.
“In January 2018, we received 100 tents and 30 vehicles from the Chinese government,” said Kimani. He disclosed that the vehicles have already been deployed to the headquarters of the wildlife agency since they could not be dispatched to the poaching hotspot areas due to poor transport infrastructure.
“These vehicles are meant for tarmacked areas and most of our poaching hotspots have a rugged terrain and it is only land cruisers that can manage to penetrate,” Kimani remarked. He added that the tents have been distributed to various game reserves and are offering warmth to rangers who had previously grappled with harsh elements of weather.
“These tents are facilitating smooth movement of the Rangers since there is no permanent accommodation for them” added Kimani.
Concurrently, Chinese enterprises and charities based in Kenya have also rendered support to wildlife conservation initiatives that are contributing to a reduction in poaching of elephants. One of them is Huang Hongxiang, a Chinese an ivory trade investigator based in Africa.
During an interview with the local television channel NTV in a program known as Wild Talk, he said that one of the things that have been contributing to poaching in Kenya is lack of knowledge “I know of many Chinese who used to buy ivory but after seeing documentaries on the poached elephants and photos of dead elephants, they stopped and changed completely,” Huang remarked.
He adds that ivory is not that expensive in Africa, and that has made it easy for the Chinese to trade. “China is doing a lot, in recent years a lot of campaigns and awareness have been going on,” said Huang.
Kenya has around 40,000 to 60,000 Chinese expatriates but only 0.1 percent has been involved in the ivory trade business, according to Huang. Huang says that since he has been involved in the investigation business, his work has been easy since no-one asks him a lot of questions.
“No one believes that Chinese can be investigators, they always believe that we are all ivory buyers,” adds Huang. He reiterates that as much as people believe that the Chinese are the poachers, this is not true since the people inside the reserves like the rangers are the ones aiding the poaching.
“Women also engage in poaching activities,” said Huang. Chinese NGOs are now working hand in hand with the government. “If we find many ways of documenting this business of poaching, more people will stop it completely”. According to the latest report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), overall elephant poaching in Africa has decreased for five years in a row.
Najib Balala, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for tourism and wildlife, said during a memorial service in honor of the last remaining northern male white rhino on 31 March 2018 that China’s bold decision to ban the ivory trade dealt a devastating blow to elephant poaching.