Monday, December 11, 2023

What is China’s Role in the Elephant Wars?

By Richard Moleofe

Issues surrounding the lifting of game hunting and particularly that of elephants have an international effect on us. It seems elephants are top on the list of the hunted game. But the lifting of the ban affects all other large game such as buffalo, zebra and giraffe.

Elephants must not make us lose sight of the real issues relating to the lifting of the hunting ban. But the fact of the matter is that elephants with their pricey ivory are really at the centre of the controversy.

We currently have double the number of our carrying capacity of elephants. And that brings the urgency for us to open up the hunting opportunities. This will help bring down the numbers without taking the approach of culling.

Further to this, the communities living in and around the wildlife areas are already celebrating an early Christmas. President Masisi has struck the right note in an election year.

In 2017, China’s ivory ban came into effect. The advent of this new law helped quench the thirst for ivory in the world’s most populated country. On a recent survey conducted by World Wildlife Fund in that country, it has come to light that 72% of the respondents have actually indicated that they were no longer interested in ivory or its related products.

This is a big leap when considering the fact that China had always been the major consumer of ivory. Their beliefs on ivory are from ancient times passed from one generation to another. Overcoming the deeply rooted practices and beliefs is never an easy thing.

It has been through education that the Chinese have achieved at this level. The coming into effect of the ban did not just occur as a law; rather multiple efforts have been put in place to educate the public on how they were contributing to the extinction of the species if they indulge in ivory.

Arriving at the Xiamen International Airport in 2016 before the ban came into place, I noticed a large banner on the wall with Jacky Chan. This was an advert directed at educating the public on ivory. It is characteristic of all Chinese airports to educate travellers and all the endangered species.

On my recent trip to China which took place this month, the airport at Guangzhou which was my point of entry displayed physical objects from the endangered species list. These included scales from the pangolin, shark fins, elephant task and crocodile juveniles.

China has taken an active step to close down several of the state licensed ivory curving factories and retailers as evidence of their commitment to the fight against poaching and the brutal killing of big game and particularly the elephant.

The closure of such businesses has immensely contributed in quenching the insatiable ivory appetite for the people of China. China’s verbal commitment to help the world put off the fire of the love for ivory has not just been in words, it has also been followed by real deeds.

The country’s change of heart emanates from the 2015 meeting between the two presidents of China and the US. It was at this meeting that Xi Jin Ping and Barrack Obama both expressed their commitment to saving the species of the world.

The current trade war between China and the US may have its roots in the Xi and Obama meeting of 2015. We are all aware that one of the things that Obama’s successor is determined to achieve is to reverse everything that his predecessor left behind.

This means that Donald Trump will be delighted to criticize Botswana in her new efforts to lift the ban on hunting of elephants and other species. I will be personally surprised if we don’t get a tweet from him soon.

I never thought this trade war would personally affect me until I realised that the intractable Donald Trump had ordered sanctions on my Huawei mobile phone. The current US administration will do everything possible to hurt the efforts of the Chinese.

By lifting the ban on hunting, we have upset the West and we must not undermine our own action. The tourists will begin to trickle from the perennial flow we were used to.

The Chinese are looking for places to go and we are ripe for that. We must not have sleepless nights about what our fate will become. In September 2016 I had an opportunity to be guest of an international tourism expo in Xiamen, Fujian Province. There is so much desire for them to send in their high-end tourists to visit our shores.

China is currently the world’s fastest growing economy. With a growing economy has come growth in household income. More and more Chinese people are making it into the millionaire bracket on a daily basis. To be precise, China produces over 3 million millionaires annually.

The growing Chinese wealth has now translated into increased disposable income for the people and they are looking for ways to spend their earnings. One of the fastest growing sectors in China is tourism. This is our meeting point with the Chinese.

The elephant wars between Botswana and the West is obviously going to affect us negatively as tourists will somewhat reduce in number.

People in this part of the world have a totally different worldview about China and will not even conceive the idea of a China that helps in fighting poaching.

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China has so far done very little to bring themselves to the public and market their country for what it is. The previous team that included Tang Shengping was more outgoing and had a lot of interaction with the people of Botswana. This interaction involved the media through press conferences.

The ambassador of China was at the helm of it all during the time when there was a diplomatic discord between the two countries regarding the Morupule B debacle and explained to the media the position of his country.

*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst


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