Thursday, August 4, 2011

When China and Africa Dance, the Elephants Get Trampled
A beautifully written and moving investigative article by Alex Shoumatoff in the August 2011 Vanity Fair, "Agony and the Ivory", fingers the Chinese demand for ivory and the rising presence of Chinese businesses in elephant-rich areas of rural Africa as an insidious pull-push factor in the rise in elephant poaching. I'm sure they are right about this.

The whole article is well worth reading, particularly for those who have been swept up in the honor and wonder of seeing these magnificent, intelligent animals in the wild.

Here are a few excerpts that shed light on the Chinese role:
“Another problem,” Crystal explains, “is that the Chinese word for ivory is elephant’s teeth—xiang ya. We did a survey. Seventy percent thought tusks can fall out and be collected by traders and grow back, that getting ivory did not mean the elephant is killed, and more than 80 percent would reject ivory products and not buy any more if they knew elephants were being killed, so it’s ignorance.”
Of course this ignorance doesn't extend to those on the ground in Africa:
...Hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers and other temporary laborers are employed on road, logging, mining, and oil-drilling crews in all of the elephants’ range states. Some manage to make it home with a few pounds of ivory hidden in their suitcases, thus doubling their meager earnings, or they are recruited as carriers for higher-ups. But they are not the real problem. The real problem is the managers, who have the resources to directly commission some local to kill an elephant and bring them the tusks, and diplomats, whose bags are not checked, and the Chinese businessmen, who are taking over the economy of Africa.
Well, it's not necessary to ring that gratuitous alarm "the Chinese are taking over!" when the reality of Chinese engagement in the ivory business -- as consumers, and as middlemen -- has been well-documented. Other Asians are also involved, although from what I can see, the West appears pretty clean in this sector.

Remember the old African saying, "When elephants dance, the grass gets trampled." It seems while China and Africa danced, the elephants are getting trampled. Public education and a strong zero-tolerance stance by the Chinese government on ivory trading by its diplomats and businessmen could do a lot to improve this.

Read more here. A hat tip to Matthew Robertson.


Anonymous said...

China should ban the use, transport, and trade of ivory completely. But the reality is in 2009, China followed Japan, gained the importer status that can legally import ivory from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, which leave the possibility of illegal trading of ivory wide open. To counter it, African countries can raise the penalty of illegal trading and pressure Chinese government to tighten the custom inspection. Civilian education is also important.


Anonymous said...

pretty clean is not squeaky clean so:

Anonymous said...

The practice of letting diplomatic staff members travelling without being subject to checkings is an anachronistic priviledge. Another point is that many Asiatic citizens/''businessmen'' resort to bribery to lure African poachers into killing these elephants and sell them the precious tusks. Still another point is that some countries' policy regarding wild life protection, and especially the elephants, is too ambiguous. They claim that because in some areas, the number of elephants is increasing too fast, their number need to be reduced. This exception is tantamount to leaving the door wide open to all sorts of abuses.


Anonymous said...

@ Swhalilistreet

1 Ton of Ivory,
OK and they are in the hands of the US police, OK, that’s fine…
But that’s also where it starts in China: the Chinese governement was obliged to acknowledge that from 1991 to 2002 it lost track of 121 tons of seized ivory and that is was probably illegally sold.
I’ve seen elephants in the wild, but never a herd of about 11.000 animals with 22.000 tusks!

mensajes claro said...

Wow @anonymous , Sounds really interesting your comment , is it true ?

Anonymous said...



Kat said...

I felt helpless when I saw these tusks yesterday (Feb 7th, 2012) during my early shopping near the Jade Market in Hong Kong. I don't know if there's an authority to call? I took pictures of the storefront on Canton Road (near Jade Plaza). Feel ill. :( I read and loved Agony and Ivory. People have no clue.