Wildlife poaching flourishes where security and governance are weak. The revenues generated by this illegal business funds corruption, human trafficking, armed militant groups and other forms of crime. The illegal wildlife trade market has become a multibillion-dollar industry that has left some African species on the brink of extinction. This trade has been rated as the fourth most lucrative illegal business in the worldwith China rated first.
Despite global awareness around illegal wildlife practices, illegal wildlife trade has increased dramatically over the years. Due to the public outcry by African countries with animals facing extinction, China has had to come up with various ways to combat wildlife harmful practices such as poaching. African countries such as South Africa and Kenya have suffered socially, politically and economically due to the amount of poaching occurring in their countries. This has left devastating effects on industries such as tourism, security, and trade. Animals such as rhinos and elephants, in particular, have been left severely threatened as a result of this illicit practice, inspiring concerns about their continued existence.
While China is Africa’s largest trade partner, illegal wildlife trade stains this relationship. As a result, China has attempted to combat illegal wildlife trade occurring in African countries, firstly by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the South African government. The Chinese government has also used social media and celebrities such as the NBA legend Yao Ming and actress Li Bing Bing to help spread awareness over China’s role in illegal wildlife trade. This is approach is worth emulating because it has been able to record some tangible successes. For instance, when China used Jackie Chan to spread awareness about shark fin, it resulted in a drastic drop of shark fin consumption. The pressure that China received from Chinese locals who are against illegal wildlife trade and Africans drove the government into committing to the phasing out of domestic ivory trade to combat elephant poaching. Chinese embassies also play an important role in the protection of African wildlife in countries they are situated in. For instance in Kenya, the Chinese embassy has held various events where it clearly stated that it will cooperate with local authorities to find and arrest perpetrators.
China’s role in wildlife conservation will most importantly help support economic growth in African countries that rely on wildlife tourism. In South Africa, tourism plays a major role in the country’s economy; therefore, the conservation of wildlife will play a significant role in the sustainability of an industry that is experiencing a drop in number of tourists caused by various issues including poaching of wild animals.
In order to eradicate wildlife poaching, countries, civil societies, and global institutions need to work together to combat trafficking networks. The disruption of these networks needs both short-term and long-term measures to be adopted, especially in African countries that are fragile and need to improve rule of law, economic opportunity and governance cannot be over-emphasized.
Although it is easy to put blame on China and other countries active in poaching or the purchase of illegal wildlife products, it is imperative that African states undergo introspection and address issues such as security, corruption and governance. Addressing these issues may lead to the eradication of illegal wildlife trade. African countries should also be able to reach a consensus with regards to the causes and ideal solutions to combat illegal wildlife trade. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora which will be hosted by South Africa in September-October 2016 will serve as a perfect platform where solutions to wildlife trade will be tabled.
As a country that has the largest demand for wildlife goods, China has consequently been trying to stop illegal wildlife trade albeit to no avail. From the attempts that China has made, it can be established that there is no single solution to combating wildlife trade. Perhaps the global community can also help in providing solutions and new tactics that can stop illegal wildlife trade especially in Asian countries where it is most active.