By Grace Ge Gabriel
Chinese New Year is a time for giving, when millions of Chinese visit families and friends bearing gifts to celebrate the dawning Year of the Horse.
What better opportunity leading up to this momentous holiday than to launch a widespread public awareness campaign, in which we are urging people not to buy ivory as gifts and return peace to elephants.
‘Give Peace to Elephants, Say No to Ivory Gifts’ is a clever play on two Chinese words – auspicious and elephant – which share the same pronunciation ‘Xiang’ meaning ‘all is at peace.’
By refusing to give or accept ivory products, people will provide a peaceful, harmonious life for both elephants and humans.
A collaboration between IFAW and SolarVista Media (Shanghai), the campaign features giant billboards that juxtapose a picture of a mother elephant with her calf next to an ivory bracelet linked to a handcuff, a visual metaphor for the moral and legal ramifications of the ivory trade.
The billboards have gone up on 27 buildings in nine cities across China, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Chongqing, Tianjin, Shenyang and Harbin.
A social media campaign on China’s largest micro blogging site, Sina Weibo, is simultaneously reaching millions of netizens. Weibo users can participate in the event by re-posting the “Give Peace to Elephants, Say No to Ivory Gifting” messages at www.weibo.com/ifaw, IFAW’s official micro-blog.
Most illegal ivory is destined for China, where the value of this so-called “white gold” has soared. The trade of legal ivory in China purchased from the stockpile sale in southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephants to meet market needs. It is estimated that up to 50,000 elephants a year are killed by poachers for their ivory.
In recent years, IFAW has conducted a series of campaigns to appeal for Chinese consumers to reject ivory and other wildlife products. Employing the unique features of the Chinese language, part of the ancient culture all Chinese are proud of, the campaigns appeal for the rejection of ivory from emotional, legal and moral angles.
The Chinese word in the ivory bracelet questions, “Have Status?” while the words in the handcuff declares, “Have Sentence!”, with the two Chinese characters in both have exactly the same sound “You Xing”. In a market where legal and illegal trade exists in parallel, the ad reminds people that ivory trade could lead to prosecution.
The “Mom, I Got Teeth” ads pull on people’s heart strings by revealing the basic fact that every piece of ivory comes from a dead elephant. After seeing the ads, the likelihood of people buying ivory had more than halved – down to 26 percent from 54 percent. Among past buyers of ivory, those saying they will definitely not buy ivory in the future increased from 33% to 66%. Among past non-buyers of ivory, those who say they will definitely not buy ivory increased from 61% to 81%.
Most recently, in another play on the unique language, the Chinese public has been witness to ads that show Chinese characters for endangered species mutilated symbolizing the fate they suffer in the hands of man.
By removing one crucial stroke off the Chinese character representing elephant, tiger, bear and human being respectively, the ad asks “When we take the tusk out of elephants, bone out of tigers, gall bladder out of bears, what does it make us? Doesn’t it make us just beings without humanity?”
We are seeing an increasing groundswell of mindfulness in China of the terrible slaughtering of elephants, and the support from Chinese citizens to stop the ivory trade. In a recent survey 60 per cent of those polled said they would stop buying ivory if it was made illegal. This decision would be made even more compelling if endorsed by a government leader.
China has recently made two symbolic gestures to support the fight against wildlife trade. The Chinese government recently banned the serving of shark fin and bird nest soups and other wild animal products at official banquets. Earlier this month, China destroyed six tonnes of ivory and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, has announced it will incinerate 30 tonnes of its stockpiled illegal ivory in the next two years.
There is no doubt the most constructive way to change consumer behavior and reduce wildlife consumption is to deliver new ideas into the hearts and minds of the people who are doing the consuming.
With campaign approaches that are culturally-appropriate, politically-sensitive and socially-motivating, more and more Chinese are making the right moral decisions for wildlife. Graphics.