Progress made in fight against wildlife crime

Updated: 2013-03-06 06:55

By Li Lianxing in Nairobi, Kenya (China Daily)

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China has made significant progress in the fight against the illicit trade of wildlife products, including ivory and rhino horn, according to a top wildlife conservation specialist.

"China has been serious about strengthening its regulations and law enforcement against the illegal wildlife products trade," said John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

"When we look at China, we must recognize the great efforts it has made," he said, adding that among 177 partner countries of the organization, China is one of the most actively engaged.

Progress made in fight against wildlife crime

"It is not the Chinese government that is involved in the illicit trade, but some individuals are acting illegally. We have to draw a distinction clearly."

Efforts led by the Ministry of Forestry are functioning well. Enforcement has been significantly improved, and coordination between agencies including police, customs and forest inspectors has been fine-tuned, according to Scanlon.

But there is also an urgent need for the government to raise public awareness of wildlife protection, he said.

"How do you raise the awareness? I think the best way is working with Chinese people, because they know the culture, they know the best way to communicate. That's why we use our own Chinese staff to directly work with the Chinese authorities to see how we can work with China to help raise awareness," he said.

Much of the illicit trade relies on the lack of understanding of its implications, he said. That makes it important to work with international organizations such as the United Nations Environmental Programme, which can reach a large number of people.

China has recently invested $200,000 in the African Elephant Fund, based in Kenya, to further protect the species, Scanlon said.

He said there are a significant number of exchanges between China and Africa in terms of wildlife protection enforcement.

"I think what we need to recognize is that domestically, China has taken significant actions to protect the species and the same can be also said of Africa, countries like South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, which are taking very strong action to protect their national heritage, the wildlife," he added.

He said the weak governance in some African countries leads to difficulties enforcing wildlife conservation because of human conflicts and the rampant illicit wildlife trade.

"Unlike the trade in rhino horns, which is all illegal, ivory is a little bit different, because it was traded until 1999, when there was a trade ban imposed," he said. "In China and other countries, there is a certificate system to legally sell ivory."

"That's why we are working with the Chinese government to ensure the system and regulations are fully rigorous, making sure the legal trade is not well-laundered ivory which has been taken illegally," he said. "When there is a legal trade, there is an opportunity for laundering, and that's why we should have very tight national legal controls."