Africa, Asia-Pacific, China

Is China Secretly Poaching Elephants in Africa?

Let’s talk about elephant poaching in Africa. First of all, there is not a single African country where you won’t find a footprint of China. Over the last two decades, China has been expanding its territory to Africa in small but sure steps. In the past, Africa would have easily pass as a United States or European Union playground. For instance, the USA has had several army bases in Africa which ‘collaborate’ with local armies to fight terrorists or restore order in times of war. One of the largest is Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti which oversees the Horn of Africa. Likewise, the EU has been a major trade partner.

One Belt One Road

The script, however, reads a bit different today. Africa is gradually turning its face to the east. China to be specific. The country has also considerably gained access to major African economies. It is now almost impossible to talk about development in Africa without mentioning China, a trend that seems to worry the westerners. Through its One Belt One Road initiative, the world’s second-largest economy has made notable regional trade ties in Asia, Europe, and Africa. The aim has been to develop infrastructure and enhance cultural exchanges.

In Africa, the initiative has led to China undertaking massive projects in many countries. For instance, in the year 2009, the Chinese government and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) signed an agreement where China would build more than 9600 km (6000 miles) of road and railways. The project dubbed the North-South Corridor would run across seven countries and was estimated to cost about 1 billion USD. Similar large-scale projects are already happening or are set to begin in other African regions. Africa in return has provided a huge market for Chinese products. Literally almost everything has a ‘Made in China’ sticker; from electronics to fabrics, food, and wood.

Elephant poaching
Despite being a resourceful partner, China has been accused of giving with one hand while taking with the other. This is because since its significant entrance to Africa, massive elephant poaching started being reported. Apparently, China has the world’s largest ivory market. It also has licensed ivory retailers and carving factories. Approximately 30,000 elephant are being killed yearly for their tusks. The tusks are then taken to China where there’s a lucrative market.

Elephant Poaching: Give One, Take Two

International ivory trading was banned in 1990, however, some countries such as the USA and China continued to allow a domestic ivory trade. This was argued to be ivory from elephants that were killed before 1976 or ivory that was legally imported before the 1990 ban was implemented. With a dwindling supply, the demand and prices for ivory sky-rocketed. This led to the increased cases of rhino and elephant poaching as an illegal ivory trade continues to take place to meet the demand. The fact that domestic trading is legal in China has only made a loophole as fresh or newly acquired ivory is usually traded as old ivory.

The war against elephant poaching has not been easy. This is because corrupt government officials and crooked port staff have been colluding with Chinese nationals and give an easy passage for the illegal goods. In some cases, top government officials in Africa have themselves been dealers in the illegal trade. Interestingly, even though the illegal traders are not solely Chinese nationals, a report published by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) stated that of the transit passengers nabbed with illegal ivory in the year 2014, 85% were Chinese nationals.

Domestic Ivory Trading Ban

A sharp decline in rhino and elephant populations has been a cause for alarm to African governments and conservationists. A course dubbed the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) was initiated to push for the total ban of any form of ivory trading. Additionally, strict anti-poaching measures have been employed to discourage poaching. In 2016, Kenya burned to ashes a 105-ton stockpile of ivory worth US$105 million.

In response to the global anti-poaching measures, Xi Jinping, the president of China in a move that was generally lauded announced a near-complete ban on domestic ivory trading. The move aimed at the total elimination of commercial ivory handling within China with the exception of antiques more than a century old. The ban was to be implemented within a period of one year.

With the banning of ivory trade however, it is just a matter of time to see whether it translates to saving the Africa’s endangered species. The country still remains to be the world’s largest ivory trading market.

About Alex Muiruri

Alex is a passionate writer based in Kenya. He's also a professionally trained health officer and a great enthusiast of science and technology. Besides writing, he enjoys doing motivational speaking and possesses strong opinions on life. He's a lover of people and enjoys good company. He's also a devoted Christian, but respects the beliefs of others.

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