By Peter Liljas
Ride the subway in a Chinese metropolis like Beijing or Shanghai and chances are you’ll come across an ad depicting mutilated Chinese characters.
Xiang, the first character, means elephant, except that lacking some strokes, it is as if the animal is missing the tusks. The second and third characters stand for tiger and bear — but the missing strokes make them seem to be losing bones and gall bladder. The fourth and last character, ren, or human, is cut in half.
The ad is intended to stifle demand for the body parts of these wild animals, which in China are commonly thought to possess naturopathic benefits (or, in the case of ivory, ornamental ones). The market has soared on the back of the country’s growing wealth, and that has been a disaster for the most sought-after animals.
This year has been particularly dark, especially for ivory, the trade in which has been banned since 1989 by an international treaty. In Africa, around 100 elephants are being killed every day, by poisoning, machine guns or rocket-propelled grenade launchers fired from the ground or helicopters. Such poaching is feeding terrorist groups like al-Shabab, who conducted the deadly assault on the Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in late September.
In Hong Kong, one of the trade’s main transit points, seizures of ivory have climbed alarmingly high, from 2,900 kg for the whole of 2010 to 7,200 kg seized from the start of 2013 to mid-October. This grim haul so far this year amounts to 3,349 tusks respectively, or the equivalent of almost 1,675 dead elephants.
Part of the problem is that many Chinese are unaware that killing is involved. “The Chinese word for ivory, xiangya, literally means elephant’s teeth,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “It has led to a very deep and wide misconception that ivory can be harvested without killing elephants.” More....