Chinese buyers need to be educated on the ivory trade, says safari expert

Veteran safari guide says it's important to make Chinese tourists more environmentally aware

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 7:25am

A veteran safari guide from Africa says the only way to stop the illegal trade in elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns to China is by educating mainland buyers.

Richard Knocker, 50, was born in Kenya and has worked for the past 20 years in Tanzania, operating safari tours in East Africa.

Because of his work, Knocker has come to realise the importance of raising awareness through tourists.

"There are some common misconceptions, particularly in China, so it's all about educating people," he said. "There's a belief in China that elephants shed their tusks and they are not killed. It means [people] can buy ivory with a clear conscience as the animals have not been harmed."

It should be made clear that to own an ivory trinket an elephant had to die for it, he said. In many cases they suffer horrific deaths.

Customs figures show Hong Kong has confiscated at least 16 tonnes of ivory since 2008. Some 1,800 elephants would have been killed to provide such a haul. Its value - based on the 2010 price of US$700 per kilogram - is about HK$87 million.

But prices are likely to have increased since then, and the stock is expected to keep growing as the trade is booming and Hong Kong is a favoured transit point.

In the early 1990s, Knocker and some friends founded safari agency Nomad Tanzania. They have seen a dramatic rise in mainland Chinese holidaymakers going on safari in recent years and he is adamant that through their travels, they will realise the gravity of the situation.

"As people become more affluent, it's important that they also become more environmentally aware. When they understand what exactly is being done to these animals, then hopefully they will show more discretion."

Worldwide, a sharp rise had been recorded in the illegal trade of banned wildlife products, the conservation body WWF and wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic said. Up to 30,000 African elephants were poached for their ivory last year and a record 668 South African rhinos killed for their horns.

In Southeast Asia alone, the trade is worth US$8 billion to US$10 billion per year. Vietnam is the worst country for wildlife crime, but China is a close second, the WWF says.

Hong Kong customs in 2011 netted their largest haul of rhino horns - 33 pieces weighing 86.5kg and worth HK$17.4 million - hidden on a ship from Cape Town.