When I first learnt about the issue of wildlife trafficking several months ago, I did not think it was closely linked to my life, or to the lives of most people in China. But I’ve come to realize that wildlife trade is intricately intertwined with the people of China and our evolving consumption habits.
Certain wildlife uses in China dates back thousands of years, and are very much a part of our culture and tradition. For example, traditional Chinese medicine — which often uses wildlife products like seahorse, bear bile and orchids —remains a primary source of health care for people in China and all over the world.
However, much of today’s illegal wildlife trade in China is a relatively recent phenomenon that is linked to new trends and wealth. In recent decades, China has experienced rapid economic development. As a resident in Beijing, I’ve personally witnessed how fast the city has developed and how consumption levels have been rising. As a result, more people are now able to afford wildlife products. Wild animals like snakes, lizards and monkeys are sought as exotic pets, and wildlife derivatives such as shark fin and ivory are used as food, decoration and clothing.
The high profits that result from these consumption patterns have spurred the growth of an illegal industry in wildlife trafficking valued at over US$ 20 billion annually. Illegal wildlife poachers and smugglers are concerned with maximizing their profits, and often capture animals at a rate that does not allow repopulation. As a result, many wild animals are now on the verge of extinction.
With the support of USAID, CI-China is cooperating with the Freeland Foundation on the ARREST (Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking) program from 2012 to 2014, providing a regional effort to suppress wildlife trafficking by reducing consumer demand.
Under this objective, we’ve started a public awareness campaign in southern China, starting in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a province bordering Vietnam. Guangxi’s location — in a mountainous terrain in the far south of China — has placed it on the frontier of Chinese civilization throughout much of China’s history and made it a key region for cross-border trade and wildlife trafficking.
Several months ago, the campaign was launched in Nanning Wuwei International Airport. Though not a large airport, it is Guangxi’s busiest; as a regional hub with direct flights to Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Burma, Laos and Thailand, it received more than 6 million passengers in 2011.
We created poster lightboxes with the slogan “Together We Can Save the World’s Wildlife” in five languages (Chinese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Lao and English) and placed them at the entrance of the customs area where passengers normally queue. Lightboxes have also been permanently placed in the customs area of the airports in the famous tourist city of Guilin, and at the customs checking areas of three port cities in Guangxi.
In a related effort, we also produced more than 30,000 brochures promoting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and wildlife consumption reduction to be distributed to the immigration officers.
Our key message with this campaign was to emphasize the illegality of wildlife trafficking. All of these communications materials contain a warning: “To mail, carry or deliver wild animals or plants or their derivative products will be severely punished by law.”
Recognising that government support and enforcement plays a significant role in wildlife trafficking, all campaign products, lightboxes, posters and brochures, include the names of relevant government sectors besides Freeland Foundation, USAID and CI. By the end of 2014, the ARREST program’s public awareness campaign will expand to other provinces of southern China, including Guangdong and Yunnan, both of which consume wildlife heavily for geographical and cultural reasons.
As part of this program, we also recently conducted a wildlife consumption survey in China which yielded some really interesting results — stay tuned on our blog to hear more soon!
Saving the world’s wildlife requires a committed effort from every single person. Through the ARREST program, we from CI-China will work to spread the message and call for as many people as possible to share this responsibility.
Jia Qi is the communications manager of CI-China and works directly to support program and communications efforts under the ARREST program.