Chinese basketball star sees reality of elephant and rhino poaching in Africa04/09/2012 13:23:12 Yao Ming's visit to Africa
September 2012. Yao Ming, ex pro basketball player who, at 7 feet 6 inches tall, was the tallest player in the NBA, has been on a fact finding tour in Africa with conservation charity WildAid. Yao was shown some of the wildlife, how important it is to local communities, and some of the problems that poaching has caused.
Yao said: (To see the full blog about Yao's visit to Africa, visit the Yao Ming blog)
In 1989, the international community banned the trade. The price of ivory fell to a quarter of its previous levels as markets in the US, Europe and much of the world, collapsed. For a number of years, elephant numbers stabilized and poaching declined. Some South African countries pushed for re-opening ivory trade for their stockpiles, but each time this was done, poaching increased again on speculation of a renewed market.
Theoretically, we could have a market in ivory supplied from elephants that die naturally. But unfortunately, with the high amount of money at stake, few will wait for the elephant to die to make a profit. There are too many people with access to weapons to do the killing here and too many people ready to buy the ivory without questioning how it was obtained.
I also learned that at one point in history, the United States was the largest consumer of ivory. As of 1989, Japan and Hong Kong were the largest importers of ivory, with Hong Kong holding 127 tonnes in its stockpile.
But China's economic boom has lead to greater buying power with few potential consumers exposed to the publicity surrounding the 1989 ban. This is why we really need to document what's happening here in Africa, on the ground. I firmly believe that Chinese consumers will have a change of heart once we understand the consequences, but it hasn't been covered widely enough in the media.
Unlike rhino horn (which was banned in 1993 in China), ivory is still legally available and side-by-side with illegal ivory from poached elephants, which I think is very confusing for people. If you see something openly on sale, you assume it is legal. An ivory carving is thousands of miles removed from the sad carcass of a poached elephant, but we need to make that connection.
It was a harrowing experience I never want to repeat, but something that everyone thinking of buying ivory should see - the wastefulness of these animals cruelly slaughtered just so a small part of them could be used.
Would anyone buy ivory if they had witnessed this?