Film actress Li Bingbing, one of China’s most popular celebrities and a rising Hollywood star, is urging governments and consumers to do more to combat illegal wildlife trade in Africa.
Speaking on a trip to Kenya this week, Li, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program, said citizens and the business community in Asia can play a crucial role in preventing the illegal killing of elephants in Africa by saying no to ivory products.
“I’m telling people (and businesses) in China that we can do without these ivory products, " she said. "They need to know every time there’s an ivory made product an elephant is killed. The current poaching crisis raises major concerns about the survival of elephants and rhinos here in Kenya.”
The number of elephants illegally killed in Africa has doubled over the last decade – reaching 25,000 killed in 2012, while the ivory trade has tripled in size, according to a recent UNEP study called Elephants in the Dust.
Rise in Illegal Killing of Elephants
Experts say the major recent spike in elephant killings is threatening the future of some elephant populations and the livelihoods of millions of people linked to tourism.
Patrick Omondi, a Kenya Wildlife Service official, said the demand for illegal ivory remains highest in the rapidly growing economies of Asia, particularly China and Thailand.
“The demand is very high especially among the Asian countries, mainly Thailand and China," he said. "Humankind can do without ivory… ivory is not medicine. It’s being used for necklases, for rubber stamps; it’s for status something human kind can do without. Our messege is that ivory is for the elephant.”
Besides illegal killings, elephants are also threatened by the increasing loss of habitat in around 29 per cent of their range areas - primarily as a result of human population growth and agricultural expansion. According to the UNEP study, this figure could rise to 63 per cent by 2050, posing a major additional threat to the long-term survival of the species.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner says rising wildlife crime in Kenya and other parts of Africa is an issue of global concern, impacting many regions of the world.
"The reason why we’re here with someone like Li is because she can speak to millions of people around the world in ways that most of us can’t," he said. "Li Bingbing’s work to highlight the multiple costs of illegal trade can reach millions of consumers, and encourage sustainable choices that can support the survival of Africa’s elephants.”
Li's high-profile visit to Kenya is a joint effort by the Kenya-based NGO Save the Elephants and UNEP. Her campaign is expected to reach millions of people in China and beyond, and will highlight the cost and impact of the demand for ivory on elephants in Africa.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates the global illicit trade in wildlife to be worth at least US$19 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal trade in the world after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking.