China proving its support for Africa's environment

Eric Biegon China Plus Published: 2017-11-03 14:47:32
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By Eric Biegon in Beijing

The Chinese government has reiterated its commitment to the environment and wildlife conservation by increasing funding to the sector in Africa to 20 million US dollars. The new aid has been unveiled by China's forestry authorities. This is double the amount of money China pledged in 2014. 

While on a visit to Kenya around three years ago, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced the government has set aside 10 million US dollars to reinforce efforts in Africa to protect nature and wild animals. 

Elephants seen roaming free in Amboseli park on Jan. 3, 2016 in Kenya.[Photo: Xinhua]

Elephants seen roaming free in Amboseli park on Jan. 3, 2016 in Kenya.[Photo: Xinhua]

At the time, Li Keqiang also toured Nairobi National Park in a symbolic gesture of China's commitment to the fight against poaching and the smuggling of wildlife products to China.

Kenya, it turns out, was the epicenter of this initiative. China later announced that it would help establish an African Ecological and Wildlife Centre in the country's capital, Nairobi.

Soon after, Kenya's Wildlife Services revealed that China had pledged grant money to enable the organization to acquire surveillance and night vision equipment.

These gestures earned praise from local environmentalists who suggested China was finally demonstrating commitment to the environment and wildlife protection in Africa. 

But this was just the beginning. The Chinese government later announced the 'kitty' was being doubled from the previous 10 million US dollars to 20 million US dollars. 

"As a responsible country, China has been seriously implementing international conventions, participating in international affairs and carrying out international cooperation and exchanges in wildlife conservation. In 2010, we announced 10 million dollars in support of African conservation. We have since doubled this figure to 20 million US dollars," said Wang Weisheng, deputy Director General of Wildlife Conservation Reserves management with China's State Forestry Administration.

Illegal Ivory Trade

Beyond the new funding, the State Forestry Administration, which manages China's ivory trade, noted the Chinese government has provided numerous exchange opportunities for hundreds of officials from Africa involved in wildlife conservation.

"We have been organizing international training and exchanges for information and technology, providing financial and technical assistance to countries and working with them to investigate trafficking cases," the State Forestry Department said in a release.

China once came under fire for not doing enough to stop the illegal trade in wild products. Chinese officials contend this is - to a large extent - unfounded, suggesting a lot has been done over the past few years to prevent trade in wildlife products.

"We have some of the toughest laws in the world. China has promulgated a series of laws and regulations on wildlife conservation. Accordingly, the illegal purchase, transportation and sale of ivory and its products are now being severely being punished," said Wang Weisheng.

Tougher Penalties

Records from China's State Forestry Department show that from 2012 to 2014, 458 people were arrested on suspicion of smuggling ivory. Those caught with ivory worth more than the equivalent of 145,000 US dollars were sentenced to at least 10 years in jail. 

The officials are adamant that China does not condone practices which affect the conservation of the environment and wild animals. They blamed this perception on misinformation, which they say is one of their next battlefronts in the effort to protect the environment. 

"Our penalties on the illegal wildlife trade are some of the most severe in the world. That is the truth. It's a fact," said Li Tiansong with the State Forestry Administration's publicity department. 

In extreme cases, some people caught in the illegal animal trade have been sentenced to life imprisonment and have had their property confiscated.

A report by the China Daily shows that 12 out of 24 ivory processing companies have been closed down in the last three months. The same report says the number of ivory retailers has been reduced from 149 to 94. 

The Chinese government is outlawing the commercial processing and trading of ivory by the end of the year. 

International Cooperation

The State Forestry department is also involved in inter-continental anti-trafficking operations involving endangered species. One operation, code named "Cobra," included 850 trafficking cases involving endangered species. Among them, nearly 300 cases were uncovered in China.

Since Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Angola in May, 2014, a number of programs have been put in place to increase conservation cooperation between Africa and China.

"China has signed bilateral agreements on wildlife protection with Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa so far. China has also provided equipment to these countries to increase conservation efforts," said Wang Weisheng with China's State Forestry Administration.

Experts from China have been making frequent visits to Africa to help a broader program to deal with the illegal animal trade.

More to be done

While quick to laud its efforts, the State Forestry Administration also admits that a lot still needs to be done to strengthen conservation. To this end, officials say Beijing plans to strengthen publicity, education and international cooperation, as well as work with the international community to address evolving challenges, with the hope of making even greater headway in wildlife conservation.

China perhaps understands the importance of conservation of wildlife more than most. The country attracts some of the most international tourists on an annual basis among all the countries in the world. Beyond international visits, domestic tourism is also increasing. A visit to any of China's tourist attractions is a prime example, with locals now visiting heritage sites such massive numbers that officials in charge of certain sites, such as the Forbidden City, have been forced to put caps on the number of people who can visit on a daily basis to try to minimize humanity's impact on these national treasures.

This mentality is also being adopted to protect China's environment. During the most recent National Day holiday, seven Chinese tourists were arrested in Tibet for chasing after a Tibetan antelope in a protected area.

The group was fined for breaking China's conservation laws and nature reserve regulations, even though it was later established that they had no sinister motive and were only trying to have their pictures taken with the animals.

It's also no secret that a growing number of people from China are making visits to nature reserves in Africa as well. A growing respect for animals and nature in China will only help in conservation efforts in the 'Middle Kingdom,' as well as other parts of the world, including Africa. China's role in promoting wildlife conservation will also help support economic growth in countries which rely on tourism. 

(Eric Biegon is a news reporter with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation)

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