By John Gruetzner
Chinese basketball star Yao Ming’s new documentary The End of the Wild will, ideally, have the impact in Asia that Silent Spring by Rachel Carson had on environmental awareness in the West.
For this shift to happen in sufficient enough time to save the elephant is contingent on major changes in government policy and also empowering Chinese citizens to join the war against poaching of elephants.
Chinese government indifference still sadly permits the legal carving of elephant tusks that drives the poaching of 70 per cent of the 33,000 African elephants killed annually.
If the wealthy could purchase Panda skins legally, this would rightly offend the Chinese people and be strongly condemned. Elephants are just as important culturally, and as natural a symbol as the Panda.
Wildaid’s slogan is Stop the Killing Now. A corollary is to achieve must be Stop the Carving Now. China’s ivory carving’s industry defense is that it relies only on legally sourced tusks. Incontrovertible evidence proves there is widespread mixing of legal and poached ivory.
Carving of dead elephant parts and all retail sales of ivory of any kind to lower total demand need to be banned worldwide starting in China. Funding the retraining of unemployed carvers will prevent the industry from going underground. Closing down the sale and carving of ivory at the 37 approved factories and 145 retail sites would be a major disruption to the total global demand for tusks.
Bold action long these lines would set a positive example to other countries in the same business. Sending a clear message to tourists that lowers off-shore purchases from Chinese will reduce the amount of tusks that are poached. Further work within China to educate people of the consequences such as supporting of terrorism tied to of smuggling illegal wildlife is essential.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs have to step up further to inform Chinese citizens of the implications of purchasing ivory abroad. Chinese diplomats in countries with elephants can expand their co-ordination with local police and custom’s authorities to stop smuggling.
Access to tusks needs to be made harder, expensive and risky to poachers and smugglers by expanding the financial support given to protect parks. Funds could be donated by the Chinese government to support the World Wildlife Fund, African Parks and The Earth Organization.
Chinese citizen’s donations to this cause can easily be encouraged. The Chinese government’s contribution would be to identify which legitimate non-governmental organizations that protect endangered species are permitted to solicit donations within China. Donations by Chinese citizens, using their individual yearly foreign exchange quota of $50,000, could easily solve this crisis. People that can afford Prada and Rolex can easily afford to contribute to protect global biodiversity.
Confucius stressed the virtue of not imposing. Poaching is negatively impacting China’s friendship with African countries. Soft power often requires hard political decisions to be implemented domestically.
The current Five Year Plan commitment to cleaning up of massive environmental problems, including stricter fines on polluters and substantial reductions of greenhouse gas, was highlighted during bi-lateral commitments made with the United States during the recent APEC summit.
Adopting the elephant as a national symbol of environmental protection will foster a domestic environmental movement to help support the greening of China called for by the government. It offers a unique opportunity to convince international sceptics that the Chinese Communist Party’s commitment to the environment is improving. China’s government can contribute to the important education of the public that basketball star Yao Ming and Jacky Chan the actor undertake.
Saving elephants is potentially a new icon for Chinese citizens to appreciate the value of nature and the importance of environmental protection. Elephants could play the same role in China that the Panda logo of the WWF has had globally. Protection of wildlife and our health are linked to the quality of the environment. Saving elephants presents an opportunity to vitalize indigenous Taoism – or in western terminology foster a new sense of romantic naturalism.