DAR ES SALAM - More than 550 people took to the streets of Tanzania’s biggest city on Saturday morning to protest the trade in ivory.
The "Walk for Elephants" march was co-organized by the Chinese Embassy in Tanzania and the Tanzania-China Friendship Promotion Association. Demonstrators, including the Chinese ambassador and many from the city’s Chinese community, walked five kilometers and called for the protection of elephants.
Tanzania is an epicenter of the African elephant poaching crisis. In 2015, a government census suggested the country had lost 60 percent of its elephants to poaching in just five years. Elephants are mainly poached for their tusks, which are turned into ornate ivory carvings.
Investigations into the trade have pointed to China as the leading destination for poached tusks.
The Chinese community in Africa is determined to turn around the negative perception of their country.
“There has always been a huge communication gap,” said Hongxiang Huang, an investigative journalist and conservationist who helped organize the event. “We’re doing this so the world can know that not all Chinese are bad, there are many many good Chinese people as well.”
One demonstrator, Jimmy Liguo, who works for Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, participated in the march with his wife and son. He said his family was disappointed by news stories this year about Chinese nationals involved in the ivory trade in Africa.
“We’ve been living in Tanzania for two years, so for Chinese people here we love elephants, so we want everyone to protect elephants,” said Liguo.
The march also served to educate Chinese expats in Tanzania about Africa’s poaching crisis.
“I want more of our people to know that the animals, the wildlife are the best friends of human beings,” said Youqing Lu, the Chinese ambassador to Tanzania. “Everyone should be involved in protecting wildlife, because we are one family.”
Many Tanzanian celebrities and activists also took part in the march. WildAid ambassador and singer Ben Pol called for Tanzanians to support the movement against poaching.
“This is important for my country, for our future,” said Pol. “People need to support this movement against poaching through any means: social media, organizing a march like this, word of mouth.”
The walk followed a December Chinese government announcement that it will close its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017. The decision has been hailed by conservationists as a game changer for the ivory trade.
“The ban is very important, because for those who facilitate and support killers of elephants, they will now get a message that the market is gone, so why go for killing an elephant,” said Elisifa Ngowi, a top intelligence officer with the PAMS Foundation, a conservation NGO in Tanzania.
Ngowi was responsible for leading a task force that has arrested hundreds of poachers, including Yang Feng Glan dubbed the "Queen of Ivory" who has been charged with smuggling at least 706 elephant tusks.
Ngowi warned that though China’s ivory ban is a win for Tanzania’s elephants, new markets are emerging in other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia.
Huang agrees more works needs to be done.
“Even if it’s now [better] for elephants, what about pangolins, rhinos, there are still many other species that need to be protected.”
The Chinese ambassador said his government was committed to supporting the Tanzanian government in their continued fight against poaching in the country.
He hopes to make the march an annual event.