By Francis Garrard
Recent positive feedback regarding the onslaught on sharks is extremely encouraging news for advocates of non-trade solutions to the elephant and rhino poaching crisis across Africa. According to research conducted by WildAid and Chinese government agencies, demand for shark fin soup in Chinese restaurants has dropped substantially due to the success of demand reduction campaigns and strong action by the Chinese government.
"People said it was impossible to change China, but the evidence we are now getting says consumption of shark fin soup in China is down by 50% to 70% in the last two years," said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid. "It is a myth that people in Asia don't care about wildlife," Knights said. "Consumption is based on ignorance rather than malice."
These results are extremely significant as they refute the arguments of pro-trade lobbyists who continue to claim that demand reduction campaigns will not work. Comprising a coalition of Chinese sports stars, business leaders and other celebrities teamed up with WildAid, two years of awareness and education programmes focusing on the implications for sharks and the environment have made eating shark fin soup undesirable. The government has also played a crucial role by prohibiting this once sought-after delicacy from official menus.
And this is exactly the formula anti-trade advocates are promoting as the most realistic long-term solution for rhino horn and ivory. Chinese, Vietnamese and other consumers of these products must be made aware of the implications of their consumption patterns, and the governments of these countries must be encouraged or coerced into understanding the roles they play in both driving the poaching and becoming involved in securing solutions - kill the demand and you kill the poaching.
Perhaps this should be on the agenda at the forthcoming Emergency African Elephant summit by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Government of Botswana in Gaborone from 2-4 December this year.