No horns of a dilemma over conservation
Updated: 2012-10-22 07:41
By Li Lianxing (China Daily)
Consumers increasingly realize wildlife needs to be protected, Li Lianxing reports from Nairobi.
Paul Muya, a deputy spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service, is concerned every time he sees reports about the booming wealth of China's middle class. He wonders if the growing affluence will whet appetites for wildlife products and fuel the poaching of elephants and rhino in his homeland.
However, it's not all one-way traffic: A growing number of Chinese are participating in a variety of campaigns focused on wildlife protection.
Li Yuchun, one of China's most famous pop singers, visited a number of Kenyan nature conservancies in early October during a trip to promote awareness of elephant and rhino protection.
Meanwhile, Yao Ming, the former NBA basketball star, visited several conservation areas in Kenya and South Africa in September.
Yao pledged that he would tell the Chinese people that the poaching and trading of elephant tusks and rhino horns is unacceptable. "We (Chinese people) would definitely be infuriated if someone killed our pandas, so we are also very sad about the rhino and elephant poaching here in Africa," he said.
In addition to the celebrities, an increasing number of Chinese are alarmed by the deteriorating security situation for African wildlife and interested in contributing to campaigns.
The Chinese lion
Zhuo Qiang, who likes to be known as Simba, meaning lion in Swahili, established the Mara Conservation Fund and established his own patrol team in 2011 with the intention of protecting lions and other wildlife in Kenya's Masai Mara nature reserve. Zhuo's campaign has drawn financial support from a number of wealthy Chinese backers.
Zhuo once dreamed of living with the lions on the African savannah, but the dream has changed over the years, and now all he wants to do is protect these big cats.
Zhuo Qiang surveys the wild in Kenya. He established the Mara Conservation Fund and his own patrol team in 2011, with the intention of protecting lions and other wildlife in Kenya's Masai Mara nature reserve. Provided to China Daily
"It took six years to take this step. I flipped over Africa and the wildlife, especially the lions, on a trip in 2004. It was love at first sight," he said. "It was extremely difficult for me, an ordinary person, to make the decision and come to live in Africa."
Born in 1973, Zhuo was 31 when he fell in love with African wildlife. He had a good job in municipal government, a happy family life and more stability than many of his peers.
"Giving up all those things appeared insane to my parents and my wife. It was difficult for them to understand how important it is and how much it means to me to help protect the wildlife," he said. "But I even asked myself many times if I really should do this."
He said Chinese efforts on animal protection tend to focus heavily on domestic concerns, such as the trade in bears' gall bladders, tiger bones and pandas, and even the mistreatment of cats and dogs. Many people found Zhuo's desire to leave home and travel to Africa incomprehensible, because there are plenty of wildlife problems to be addressed in China.
Zhuo has now settled in a conservation area in the Masai Mara. He relies on his savings and occasional donations to run his protection team, mainly staffed by locals. In addition to his unpaid, daily patrol work, he has another mission - to educate both the increasing numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Africa and the people back at home.
"We must let them know what is happening on the ground and how terrible the situation is," he said. "If we can increase awareness and tell people they shouldn't buy wildlife products, demand will decline."
He concentrates his efforts on school students for two reasons. First, because the school-age generation is the future of China; and second, they have influence over their parents' generation, which has the financial clout and the inclination to buy ivory carvings or rhino horns.
"Young Chinese people are much better educated nowadays and they understand the urgency of protecting wildlife, regardless of where they are," Zhuo said. "But they lack information and the means of gaining the relevant knowledge."
He uses online social networks to publicize his aspirations, daily work and his plans: "The project has attracted more than 1,000 college students from more than 300 universities across China to join the education program," he said. "Those who show the most dedication and have formulated specific plans for dealing with the problem are rewarded by being given the chance to visit us in the field to witness our efforts and join in."