Jason Bell: we still have choices to protect wild life
This year marks the 50th anniversary of IFAW, or Conservation and Animal Welfare with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The mission of this global non-profit organization is helping animals and people thrive – together. Before IFAW celebrated its birthday in May, Jason Bell,vice president of IFAW, came to Beijing and sat down with China Plus reporter Leiying for an in-depth interview.
The conversation began with the changes he has seen in China since his first visit trip to the country about 12 years ago.
"Since I came the first time, I can see that the economy has changed dramatically. Beijing looks different to me actually to what it looked like twelve years ago; we've also seeing more and more use of celebrities in getting messages out. So there's a new younger emerging middle class economy in China, which is also can be part of the solution. And I think IFAW is working with a number of key opinion leaders to bring about change in China, and that seems to have some effect. So whereas that was not the case maybe 12 years ago when I first came. So these are things, I think, you know, patterns that are evolving. I think the other thing that's very evident to me is that it's not only about China in China, it's about China in the rest of the world, and I think that's really important. I live in Africa and I'm from Africa, I have witnessed more and more Chinese people in Africa on a daily basis, either coming there as tourists or starting to live in Africa. China is investing enormously in Africa at the moment, especially with infrastructure development projects like helping African governments to build roads, helping them with other construction projects, dams etc. And with that you're having more and more Chinese people settling in Africa. So you know China's footprint is not only here in China, that's all around the world ultimately… "
Jason was in China to attend a forum celebrating the first anniversary of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online. During the event, the coalition announced an ambitious goal: To work to reduce wildlife trafficking online by 80 percent by 2020.
It was founded by IFAW, the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, in collaboration with 21 global Internet service companies. China's Internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent were among the founding members of the coalition, along with American Internet giants eBay, Google and Facebook. And this year, eight new member enterprises joined the coalition, including Sina Weibo, one of the most popular social media apps in China.
"And the reason why I'm in China in Beijing was for this coalition meeting to end wildlife trafficking online. So this year marks the first year anniversary of the formation of this coalition to basically end online trafficking of wildlife products. And I think the Chinese technology companies like Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, they've all come on board and they want to reach out to their consumers to affect change. Alibaba, for example, banned the sale of things like rhino horn, ivory, tiger bone, pangolins, even shark fin on their platform, and that's sent a very strong message to consumers. It's also sent a very strong message to the enforcement agencies in the government that they can do all that they need to clamp down on the internet trafficking or the illegal trafficking of wildlife on the internet. So I think China has actually played a leading role in facilitating the recognition of the internet as a major vehicle for the illicit trade in wildlife. These companies were the front runners. And IFAW has been working for example with Alibaba since 2008. So for a decade now we've been working with them to monitor the trade in wildlife products on the platform, and then to provide advice as to how they can deal with that. We continue to work with them and work with a number of other Chinese players. And that really has set the stage for other big industry players around the world such as eBay, Microsoft, etc, to come on board and be part of this coalition. It's very encouraging. If we hadn't have recognized the fact that the internet was going to play such a significant role in the illicit trade of wildlife products, I think if we didn't act in the last year to get this coalition going and there's a lot of work to be done. But if we didn't act in this last year, five years from now we've been serious, serious trouble. I'll just take ivory for example, I come from Africa. The last 10 years we've seen 144,000 elephants killed for their ivory, a huge decimation of elephant populations on the African continent. In some cases, local populations have gone extinct. Luckily, and this is what I think the Chinese government has to be applauded, is they took stringent action by shutting down the ivory market in China, and that has sent a very, very strong message to the rest of the world. You know the U.S. is the second biggest ivory market in the world, and there are a number of European markets that need to be shut down too. So, you know, I think China's action, when China speaks these days, the world is listening, as we all know. And, I think, this will have a huge impact on curbing the illicit trade in wildlife products moving forward.One of the things we know, for example, is that the internet is becoming increasingly used to smuggle wildlife. And we need to get ahead of that, right? And so if we're not engaging with China, we not engaging with Chinese companies, if we are not engaging with the government, how we will be successful in stemming the decline of numerous wildlife species around the world? We won't be successful. So China continues to be extremely important."
Despite the hard work of Jason and his colleagues for decades, poaching continues and wildlife populations have decreased. But Jason says he remains optimistic.
"Well, I'm an optimist. I'm an eternal optimist and I know that some people will say I'm delusional, but I do think that we've got some good evidence that things are getting better. If we continue to focus on problems, things will just get worse. And so yes, we have to address the problems, right? So you know poaching is a problem, the illegal trafficking of wildlife is a problem, but I think we've seen some very positive things. One of the best examples is this decision by the Chinese government to shut down the ivory market. So we need to stay ahead of the game and continuously monitor what that actually means. So it's one thing to shut down a market, but it's another thing to not pay attention to the black market, or the illegal market that could potentially continue to thrive. We need to monitor that, and we need to make sure that the government has the ability to enforce this ban. We need to extend that to other parts of the world. So that's critical. That's the next action. But to me, to me that's a positive message. It's not a negative message. And I think there's always two sides to the coin. I think if conservationists around the world could become a little bit more positive, I think we'll start seeing more, more change. People are aware now, we're aware of the effects of climate change is having on this planet. And yes, there are people that will continue to deny that. But you know the certain things are just cannot be denied, and then I think people have a choice. So then I think the messaging becomes important as people have a choice: do you want to be part of a healthy planet? Do you want your children to be part of a healthy planet? Or we're just going to shout and say that we're gonna give up. Do we give up? Do we continue to use plastic at the rates that we're using plastic? Do we continue to put pollution into the air at the rates that we're you know putting pollution into the air? Or do we say we gotta put a stop to this? I'm seeing more and more people, especially younger people wanting to be part of a chain. There's definitely a much stronger environmental consciousness, environmental movements, and that includes animals, the things that we are concerned about. And it includes people. "
Human beings have destroyed 83 percent of all wild animals and half of the plants on the planet. But, like Jason says, people still have a choice. The future depends on what we do now.