China is key to ending ivory trade

Anti-scientific beliefs about the medical properties of rhino horn must be exposed


The Chinese are coming. This is good news. An official Beijing delegation will attend this week's international conference in London on the elephant trade. This is a great gain for all those who have campaigned to save the elephants and rhinos of Africa, including the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, whose idea it was to convene the conference; the British government, which agreed to support it and host it at Lancaster House on Thursday; and the readers of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, who responded so generously to our appeal, before and since Christmas.

The root of the wildlife crisis in Africa is the demand for ivory and rhino horn in China and Vietnam. Thus the aim of our campaign was not just to be tough on poaching but to be tough on the causes of poaching. There is work to be done in Africa – of course, there is. The enforcement of laws against poaching needs to be fair and effective. The people who live near elephants need support to deal with the effects of poaching and to maintain a sustainable ecosystem for humans and megafauna alike. We pay tribute to the determination shown by the presidents of Chad, Gabon, Botswana and Tanzania, all of whom will be at the London conference.

But the key to stopping the extinction of elephants and rhino is curbing the demand for their tusks and horns. That requires a new cultural revolution in China – fortunately, not one as disruptive and bloody as the original, but one that could be achieved only with the co-operation of the Chinese government. Which is why it is so significant that, late in the day, the Chinese have agreed to attend this week's conference.

This is an important diplomatic breakthrough, for which William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, should take some of the credit. It is also worth noting, as our peerless environment writer Michael McCarthy does today, the increase in tempo that will be secured by making this week's conference an annual event, as opposed to the three-yearly cycle of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The aims of the campaign must now be education, education, education, to adapt Tony Blair's words. Or perhaps we should adapt Deng Xiaoping's slogan of 1978 and encourage the Chinese to introduce a programme of environmentalism "with Chinese characteristics". The more that people – not just in China – understand that several precious African species are close to extinction, the better. The more that anti-scientific beliefs about the medical properties of rhino horn are exposed, the better.

The ultimate objective must be to end the trade in ivory and rhino horn altogether. That means ending the distinction between legal and illegal ivory. It is hard to clamp down on illegal goods while there is a parallel trade in legal goods. As Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP and former editor of The Ecologist, says: "So long as there's a legal trade, it'll be possible to disguise the illegal trade and allow it flourish."

Changing attitudes, laws and markets in China is not going to be an easy task and cannot be dictated from outside the country. That the Chinese delegation will be at Lancaster House this week is a hugely important and welcome advance.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected