By Adam Vaughan
Broadcaster joins a host of celebrities, MPs and conservationists who have signed an open letter to China’s president Xi Jinping urging him to act now to save African elephants from extinction, ahead of Prince Willam’s visit next month
Sir David Attenborough and a group of broadcasters, conservationists and MPs have called on the Chinese president to end his country’s ivory trade and save African elephants from extinction.
In an open letter to Xi Jinping, comedian Ricky Gervais, actor Joanna Lumley Labour MP Tessa Jowell, former environment minister Richard Benyon and Kenyan politician and conservationist Richard Leakey ask China’s leader to outlaw the buying and selling of ivory and educate Chinese citizens on the problem.
The intervention is intended to put pressure on China, the world’s biggest market for ivory, despite a global ban in 1989, ahead of a visit by Prince William to the country next month.
The prince is due to make a statement on conservation on 4 March in Yunnan province, and will visit a sanctuary for Asian elephants. Conservationists expect him to talk about the wildlife trade, including ivory. In a speech last December he noted the street price of ivory in China had increased from $5 (£3.20) to $2,1000 per kg in 25 years and was being reflected in increases in poaching.
“Those who look the other way [on the wildlife trade\, or spend the illicit proceeds of these crimes, must be held to account,” he said.
The heads of several dozen conservation organisations, 34 MPs and naturalists such as Stanley Johnson, Virginia McKenna and Steve Backshall are among those who have signed the new letter, which warns that China risks damaging its international image over the ivory trade.
“We believe your people, as well as the global community, would welcome your decision to ban a trade that perpetuates so much cruelty and, as a consequence, a negative image of China internationally,” they write.
The signatories are unequivocal about China’s key role in the trade, citing research by the international wildlife trade body, Cites, that the country’s increasingly affluent middle class is causing demand for ivory to soar.
“Unless urgent actions are taken by the international community, and China in particular, to stop this demand, the killing of elephants will continue unabated and could lead to their extinction in much of their range areas within a short time – possibly as little as 10 years,” the letter, organised by Denise Dresner of Action for Elephants, says.
More than 20,000 elephants are being killed annually in Africa, Cites data shows – while the UN puts the figure much higher at 32,000 – leading experts to warn they risk being declared extinct at a local level in some countries.
China is sensitive to allegations that it is directly responsible for the elephant poaching crisis. A report claiming ivory prices in Tanzania spiked during a visit to the country by Xi prompted a swift dismissal from China’s foreign ministry, which said it was “strongly dissatisfied” with the report.
Although there is an international ban on trading ivory, China is allowed by Cites to trade ivory at a domestic level even though conservationists say it allows illegal ivory to be easily laundered. The open letter says this trade needs to end.
“Mr President, we urge and implore you to act decisively to finally end China’s domestic ivory trade (both legal and illegal), and to consider the many ways this will serve China’s long-term political and economic interests”.