Chinese star actress urges end to illegal trade in African wildlife By JANET OTIENO in Nairobi | Tuesday, May 7   2013 at  12:32

A picture taken on February 23, 2012 shows an elephant which has been killed by poachers at Bouba Ndjidda National Park in northern Cameroon, near the border with Chad. Poaching has been a serious environmental crime and has escalated in Africa due to surging demand for ivory in Asia. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

One of China’s most popular celebrities has urged a greater effort by both governments and consumers of ivory in combating the lucrative but illegal trade in African wildlife.

During a fact finding visit to Kenya, rising Hollywood star Li Bingbing said citizens and the businesses in Asia could play a critical role in preventing illegal poaching in Africa by saying no to ivory and horn products.

"The current poaching crisis raises major concerns about the survival of elephants and rhinos here in Kenya," she said at a press conference at UNEP headquarters in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

"But there are also other, far-reaching impacts. Illegal killings of elephants are being linked to organised crime and the funding of armed militia groups," Li Bingbing, 39, said.

"Many consumers in Asia do not realise that by buying ivory, they are playing a role in the illegal wildlife trade and its serious consequences. As global citizens, we need to take responsibility by learning more about the potential impacts of our lifestyle choices," she added.

The Kenya visit by Li Bingbing, recently named 'Asian Star of the Year' by Variety magazine, marks her first overseas engagement as Goodwill Ambassador for UNEP.

She is also a WWF Earth Hour Global Ambassador.

She founded the L.O.V.E Green Movement in 2009 which encourages Chinese citizens to adopt resource-efficient, low-carbon lifestyles. She also promoted the Think.Eat.Save: Reduce Your Foodprint campaign by UNEP which called for reduction of food waste and loss worldwide.

Arms for conflicts

Li Binbing, also a singer, has starred in a number of high-profile English-language films, including the most recent installment of the hit ‘Resident Evil’ series and ‘The Forbidden Kingdom’ with Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

Poaching has been a serious environmental crime and has escalated due to surging demand for ivory in China and Thailand. Experts now believe that poached ivory is exchanged for money, weapons and ammunition to support conflicts in the region.

UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Li Bingbing

Data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) monitoring programme ‘Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants’ (MIKE), shows that 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011.

MIKE covers areas home to around 40 per cent of African elephants, meaning the true figures may well be even higher. Indications are that the number of elephants killed in 2012 ran into the tens of thousands according to UNEP.

Poaching is rife across African parks; in Cameroon, up to 450 elephants were killed early last year.

In January this year, Kenyans woke up to shocking news after poachers decimated an entire family of 12 elephants and took away their tusks in the country’s largest wildlife reserve, Tsavo East National Park.

Surging demand

Alarmed by the surging demand from Asian markets for rhino and elephant horns and tusks, most African countries are currently working out strategies to curb the trade.

Although countries like Kenya have deployed game rangers into ‘danger zones’, poachers still manage to sneak in and kill elephants while ivory smugglers continue to have field days in most entry and exit ports, a pointer to laxity on transit and destination countries.

However, large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia have doubled since 2009.

Kenya Wildlife Service head of Species Conservation and Management Patrick Omondi said the recent spike in elephant killings across Africa could lead to their extinction.

Elephant poaching is now at its highest levels in around a decade thus threatening the livelihoods of millions of people in the tourism sector.

Earlier on Tuesday, Li Bingbing visited the renowned David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in the outskirts of Nairobi city, where young elephants, many of whom have been orphaned due to poaching, are cared for before being returned to the wild.