President of Chinese state news agency adopts wounded baby elephant to highlight tragedy of illegal trade in wildlife
If Kenyan wildlife rangers had failed to find Mwashoti then the 12-month-old elephant would now be dead – killed by poachers who make a living by hacking off elephant tusks and selling the valuable ivory on the black market.
Mwashoti, who was caught in a poacher’s snare, is recovering from his wounds at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a sanctuary for orphaned elephants on the outskirts of Nairobi. But many other elephants are not so lucky.
The plight of Mwashoti serves as a graphic reminder of the suffering inflicted by the illegal trade in wildlife, which has killed hundreds of thousands of some of the world’s most iconic and lesser known species, driving some to local extinction while threatening livelihoods in communities that depend on tourism.
To highlight the danger facing elephants and to raise awareness about the damage done by the illegal trade in wildlife, the president of China’s state news agency, Xinhua News Agency, today adopted baby Mwashoti during his first official visit to Kenya.
President Cai Mingzhao travelled to the elephant orphanage to see first-hand the devastating impact that poaching has on one of the world’s most-loved animals.
Earlier, UNEP’s Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw presented President Cai with a soap stone elephant sculpture at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and thanked him for supporting UNEP’s work to end the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
“I would like to express my gratitude to Xinhua for years of generous support, and most recently for facilitating the broadcast of UNEP's messages on World Wildlife Day in Times Square, New York. Thanks to this effort, together we were able to raise awareness on the scourge of the illegal trade in wildlife,” Mr Thiaw said.
President Cai’s trip to Kenya comes at a critical time for UNEP, which in partnership with CITES, UNODC and UNDP, is leading the UN and Partners Global Coalition Campaign to tackle the illegal trade.
The trafficking of wildlife is now the fourth largest illegal trade in the world after drugs, weapons and people. Driven by growing demand for wildlife products like ivory and rhino horn, especially from countries in Asia, the illicit trade has escalated into a global environmental crisis in recent years, pushing several species to the brink of extinction.
The number of elephants killed in Africa ranges from 20,000 to 25,000 per year out of a population of 420,000 to 650,000. It is estimated that rhino poaching in South Africa increased by about 9,000 per cent between 2007 and 2015. Last year, 1,175 rhinos were poached in the country – roughly one rhino every eight hours.
In Vietnam, rhino horn, which can cost more per kilo than gold, is seen as a luxury item, a post-party cleanser and a cure for cancer. These beliefs are driving demand for rhino horn among the region’s increasingly wealthy urban middle class.
The pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, is considered one of the most trafficked animals on earth, with more than one million animals taken from the wild in the past decade. These pre-historic-looking animals are killed for their meat and scales but most people on the planet have never even heard of them.
To bolster efforts to end the illicit trade in wildlife, Xinhua has agreed to support UNEP in its efforts to engage and educate consumers of wildlife products. Both organizations have agreed to combine resources to bring greater attention to the illegal trade in wildlife so that consumers understand the damage their purchases causes in an effort to reduce demand.
The deal also aims to foster collaboration between the two organizations to boost media coverage and awareness of UNEP’s critical work on environmental issues.
Aside from further collaboration with Xinhua, Mr. Thiaw also discussed with President Cai the upcoming gathering of the world’s most powerful decision-making body on the environment – the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), which will be held in Nairobi in May.
The illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products will be the focus of one of the many resolutions up for discussion at UNEA.
Other issues discussed during President Cai’s visit included UNEP’s work on tackling marine litter, its work on sustainable tourism ahead of the upcoming Olympics in Brazil and air pollution in Beijing.
“We would like to further strengthen our cooperation with UNEP,” said President Cai in a meeting with Mr Thiaw in Nairobi.
“I believe the illegal wildlife trade is an incredibly important issue that is relevant to all human beings on this planet. Through storytelling people are more informed about the issue and the choices they can make to improve the situation. That’s why we want to continue partnering with UNEP.”
For more information of the visit:
Hao Chen, UNEP Public Information Officer, [email protected], +254 703 992 362