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Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping and delegates from 50 African nations met at the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Johannesburg, South Africa. China made another step to stop poaching by pledging continued cooperation with Africa. FOCAC is a venue for China and Africa to discuss industry and development goals. China is Africa’s biggest foreign investor, financing $101 billion on infrastructure and agriculture deals in 2014. This year at the 6th China-Africa summit, South Africa was able to get rhino poaching on the agenda for the first time.
China is the world’s major consumer of ivory. A recent surge in poaching of Africa’s elephants is being fueled in part by demand from the Chinese illegal wildlife market. An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 elephants are killed each year to meet the demand for ivory. Since 2008, the price of ivory has increased from an average of $71 per pound to $681. Ivory is carved into pieces of art, while rhino horn and other animal parts are used in traditional Asian medicine, although the health benefits are often unproven. Other species impacted by demand in the East include sharks, pangolin, manta rays and many more.
Before the conference, President Xi said “China has earnestly fulfilled international obligations and actively participated in international cooperation in wildlife protection.” Xi and President Obama promised a new combined effort to stop wildlife trafficking in September 2015. Conservationists have been urging China to play a more active role.
An important conservation outcome of this year’s FOCAC is the Johannesburg Action Plan. This plan pledges that China “will strengthen cooperation in the area of wildlife protection, help African countries to improve their protection capabilities, build the capacity of environmental rangers, explore the possibility of cooperating on wildlife demonstration projects and jointly fight against the illegal trade of fauna and flora products, especially addressing endangered species poached on the African continent, in particular elephant and rhino.”
However, the Action Plan has no specific measures or timetable for implementation of this cooperation. While South African President Jacob Zuma stated the “agreements made here must translate to concrete action and outcomes,” no such commitments were made.
Still, China seems to be making efforts to change its image when it comes to wildlife. The pledge does represent another positive step for China, building on previous statements made at the UN General Assembly Resolution on “Tackling the Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife” and the Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade held in Botswana.
Since the joint US-China promise to ban ivory trade earlier this year, the price of illegal ivory has fallen by half. This price collapse may be correlated to China’s new stance on wildlife and a changing attitude among Asian consumers. A study completed by Save the Elephants found that public awareness of Africa’s elephant poaching doubled from 2012 to 2014 in China. Another survey showed that the percentage of Chinese people seeking to buy ivory dropped from 7% in 2013 to just 1% in 2015. That 1% of China’s population, however, still represents around 14 million people desiring to buy ivory. In 2014, 71% of the country believed that elephant poaching was a problem.
Meanwhile, the number of elephants poached each year remains alarmingly high. China’s leadership in protecting Africa’s wildlife is key. Reducing demand will make the biggest impact on poaching.
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