We could be approaching a defining time for wildlife conservation and China. Over the last few months there are increasing signs that the Chinese authorities are now more willing than just pay lip-service to tackling smuggling of endangered animals and wildlife poaching.
The central government of China last week made a public statement that it will commit many more resources to law enforcement agencies that are on the front line tackling the illegal import of wildlife.
The new action plan released by the country’s endangered species of wild fauna and flora import and export management office will boost co-operation on a cross department and a cross border level. There will also be joint department law enforcement detachments to take on the smugglers.
Meng Xianlin, executive director-general of China’s endangered species of wild fauna and flora import and export management office, said that a plan to carry out the CITES recommendations from 2011 to 2015 has been made, and cooperation with other countries, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, will be enhanced.
The new action plan will tackle wildlife smuggling in general but has 10 core species at its heart. These include the tackling of trade in body parts of species such as rhino, shark and elephant.
The new action by the government reflects a changing attitude towards wildlife in not just China but through the Pacific-Asia nations. There is no doubt that the rising incomes have fuelled some increase in wildlife trading but there is a new generation of wealthy young people who have different views about wildlife than their parents and grand-parents.
One of the areas where this is seen most vividly is shark fin soup. While it was a status symbol to celebrate important events with shark fin soup it is no longer seen with such great importance. This is seen in the figures shown in Honk Kong for trading in shark fins. Hong Kong is the world centre for trading in the product. Figures released by the Census and Statistics Department show that between 2001 and 2010 there was a drop ion imports of shark fin by 6% and exports out of Hong Kong dropped by 23% over the 10 years.
Shark fin soup was once an essential course on any wedding menu but many hotels and restaurants now offer shark fin free menus. A wedding feast without shark fin is no longer a bad mark on the parents for a growing number of families.
The release of the new action plan to tackle smuggling of endangered species into China is the latest step that the country has undertaken. The new steps have gone almost unnoticed by western countries and NGO’s who like to paint China as a bad boy of wildlife crime.
The customs agency of China are working with colleagues in the UK to train a team of wildlife detector sniffer dogs. These specially trained dogs work at airports to smell for illegal imports of animals and animal parts. The dogs have operated at Heathrow Airport for over 8 years. Beijing will get its first dog soon.
China has also been joining more cross border initiatives over the last few months. One notable example of this is their commitment to be more actively involved in the South Asian network (SA-WEN) which seeks to tackle wildlife protection and law enforcement across the region.
China’s tightening official stance on combating wildlife crime reflects the growing calls from the population. Last weekend law enforcement officers stopped an open auction of tiger wine at a prestigious hotel following a last-minute email campaign by wildlife lovers in the country.
An annual campaign to clear tiger snares and traps laid in north-east China received hundreds of applications for the 90 volunteer positions on offer. applications covered the entire spectrum of Chinese society including big company bosses, doctors, students, public servants and journalists. Last year volunteers cleared over 300 traps in a week despite temperatures being as low as -30C.
Public views are changing across Asia about endangered species and the regions governments, not just China’s, are changing to show those changing attitudes.