UK & World News
China Joins Fight Against Wildlife Crime
China's top official responsible for tackling the illegal wildlife trade has told Sky News co-operation between nations needs to improve if the trafficking of endangered animal parts is to stop.
Wan Ziming, the director of China's Division of Enforcement, has just returned to Beijing from Kenya where he and his team formed part of an unusual multi-national counter-trafficking operation.
He accepted the Chinese hunger for ivory is largely to blame for the problem but said there needs to be a global solution.
"It's very important not only for Chinese officials but also for every country's officials to work together to combat wildlife crime because this is a global problem and needs a global solution," he said.
More than any other nation, China is blamed for the trade in illegal animal parts.
Ivory is regarded as a status symbol and is carved into decorative objects for sale illegally in shops across the country.
Alarmingly, as ivory becomes rarer and international policing of the trade becomes more successful, there are suggestions that some Chinese nationals are regarding ivory as an investment.
People are stockpiling it, banking on the hope that the extinction of the elephant will increase the monetary value of the ivory.
Co-operation between nations is now greater than ever before.
On January 27, a one-month operation code-named Cobra 2 involving law enforcement officers from 28 countries, claimed significant successes.
It is only the second operation of its kind, involving law enforcement officers from different countries, working together and sharing resources, language skills and expertise to combat wildlife crime.
Mr Wan was on the operation.
"This operation resulted in many wildlife seizures," he told Sky News.
"From the operation we have made around 350 seizures and arrested around 400 suspects," he said.
"We also made seizures of more than three tons of elephant ivory, 36 ivory horns and 10,000 turtles.
"We send our wildlife enforcement officers to Africa to help them combat wildlife crime.
"In Africa we have brought intelligence to them.
"We have arrested the head of criminal gangs responsible for the illegal trade in wildlife and then deported them to China."
The operation which focused on several African countries as well as hubs in Asia, involved the co-ordination of the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as Interpol and local African law enforcement agencies.
"It's a great pleasure for us to work with African wildlife law enforcement officers to combat the wildlife crime," Mr Wan said.
"Every day we can collect many information and intelligence and we analyse and then we co-ordinate the relevant countries to work together to follow up investigations."
Education is also key if the illegal trade is to be combated, according to Mr Wan, who believes many Chinese people do not realise the damage they are doing.
He explained that increasingly wealthy Chinese consumers are travelling in ever greater numbers to Africa and fuelling the illegal trade.
He has a simple message for China.
"Please do not buy and bring home endangered species such as ivory rhino horn and sea horses or other wildlife products," he said, citing one recent example of a Chinese national who was caught.
"A few days ago one [Chinese] person who took ivory from Africa to Asia was arrested and was fined about 20 million Kenyan shillings (£140,000) which is a very tough penalisation," he warned.
"So my suggestion is please don't take any illegal wildlife products from Africa to Asia otherwise you will be in big trouble."
Mr Wan also had a message for Western countries, which he said should carry their share of the responsibility.
"Western developed countries have a huge demand for legal and illegal wildlife," he said.
"There is a demand there for pets, caviar and python skin so [it's] not only in China but even in those countries we should educate our people not to buy the illegal wildlife products."
The statistics out of Africa are striking. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the elephant population once stood at 400,000.
Today, only 10,000 remain. In South Africa last year, 1,000 rhinos were poached.
In Kenya, a three-yearly census of elephants is ongoing at the moment.
The 1967 census of Kenya put the population at 35,000.
By 1988, the elephant population had fallen to just 5,400.
By 2011, after a significant crackdown, it had grown to 12,573.
The results of this year's census will demonstrate if the fight is being won.
"We are hoping that the London Summit will produce some fruitful outcomes such as all countries taking urgent actions on a daily basis and all should enhance their international co-operation, all countries should share information intelligence and follow up investigations so that the offenders along the illegal trade chain can be arrested and prosecuted. Of course we can win," Mr Wan added.
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