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China’s Investment in Africa Affecting Elephants and Rhinos

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is in Africa this week where China has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure. 2013-03-25 03:21 PM EST Last Updated: 2013-04-01 04:56 PM EST
Chinese leader xi-jinping/" target="_blank">Xi Jinping is in Africa this week where China has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure. 


Instead of giving western-style loans with strings attached, like reforms to human rights, China offers an alternative — a build up of Africa’s infrastructure in exchange for raw materials.


While many Africans see this as a boon to the economy, it has not been so good for Africa’s natural resources.


[Philip Muruthi, Director, Conservation Science, African Wildlife Foundation]

“China has a very great role to do in Africa in development, that is appreciated, but we would like respect for those resources for which Africa is endowed including rhinos and elephants.”


Due to demand in Asia, two of Africa’s most iconic species are dwindling in numbers and China is largely to blame.


[Philip Muruthi, Director, Conservation Science, African Wildlife Foundation]

“The consuming is doing a lot of damage…We are now told that starting from 2015, the rhino birth rates, all rhinos in Africa, the birthrates will have been exceeded by mortality rates and from then, all the work that has been done in many, many years, over 100 years, will have been undone.”


Some African elephant species have declined by 60% in just the last decade. Rhino’s have gone extinct in some African countries and more are being poached every year.


Both rhino horn and elephant tusks are forbidden from being sold to China under international agreements. But a combination of African poaching rings and Chinese demand has created a thriving underground trade.


Elephant tusks are prized in Asia as a medium for religious carvings and trinkets. Rhino horn is toted as a cure for cancer and other maladies in Traditional Chinese Medicine.


[Philip Muruthi, Director, Conservation Science, African Wildlife Foundation]

“Rhino horn is keratin, which is like my hair or your hair so it makes no sense to consume it. But those who are making money out of it, you will be surprised. They are coming up with so much propaganda, unfounded information that they market as if it was scientific truth.”


Organized crime rings have moved into the poaching trade, combining modern technology with a vast underground network of criminals and traders. 


Corruption in Africa and China has made their impact even more devastating. Rangers meant to protect the animals and Chinese officials regulating the trade have both been sucked in.


[Philip Muruthi, Director, Conservation Science, African Wildlife Foundation]

“The poaching is being done by organized criminals. Similar to human traffickers, similar to drug traffickers, and these are, they start from the local village, all the way to the person, to the kingpin in China.”


[Daphne Sheldrick, Elephant Expert,Tsavo National Park]

“And it’s become an international thing now because a lot of this money is laundered into terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and so on. And, you know, it’s beyond the capacity of the third world now to control this.” 


Ironically enough, the infrastructure that Chinese construction workers are building is also helping the poaching trade. Areas that used to be all but inaccessible by vehicles now have vast highways that give easy access to poachers.


[Philip Muruthi, Director, Conservation Science, African Wildlife Foundation]

“I live in Kenya on a highway that, next to a highway, my house is next to a highway now that has just been completed by the Chinese. I like the highway. Ten lanes, I have never seen such a highway in Kenya, so good thing happen. But— these are a people that have a tradition of consuming wildlife.”


 The new roads are also creating another problem. Wild habitat that is essential to animals’ survival is being cut into a checkerboard of preserves and land for development.


And it is not just the animals that are suffering. If the killing continues like this, it will affect Africa’s economy as well.


[Daphne Sheldrick, Elephant Expert, Tsavo National Park]

“Elephants are an iconic species here. The tourist industry is the biggest revenue earner that the country has and without the elephants, they delete a lot of other species as well.”


The poaching has created another problem for the tourism industry. As poachers become more daring and creep into protected areas, tourists don’t feel as safe on the African savannah. 


Human casualties have also become an issue as the fight to preserve Africa’s endangered species intensifies.


But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. At a CITES conference last week that addressed international wildlife trade, the issue of China’s demand was addressed.


[Tom Milliken, Elephant and Rhino Program Leader, TRAFFIC]

“CITES has put forward specific language calling on all countries to promote demand reduction efforts in their markets.”


One advocacy group called Wild Aid has started an awareness campaign with well-known celebrities. Their tagline is “When the buying stops, the killing stops too.”


Holly Kellum, NTD News


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