Elephant in South Africa. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
A newspaper story about the impact of the ivory trade has gone viral in China, raising awareness among millions of Chinese, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The story, published November 15 in Southern Weekly, has been shared widely across Chinese web sites and social media, according to the conservation group.
“The total views of the original Southern Weekly Tweets and Retweets on Weibo (China’s Twitter/Facebook hybrid) exceeded 10 million. Most of these “netizens,” or members of the Chinese online public, were from Tier 1 Chinese cities (Beijing, Chongqing, Guangdong), the most significant consumers of ivory,” said WCS in a statement.
“The article was reposted on 24 online discussion forums or Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) including Mop and Tianya, two of the most popular in China. Thousands of comments were generated on the Tianya BBS forum alone. Overall over 5,000 comments on the article were posted on Weibo, BBS fora, and other websites.”
The story received wide play outside environmental news, being picked up on finance sites, according to WCS.
“This represents an important shift for the topic of ivory from the specialist environmental pages to the mainstream debate,” said the group.
The poster reads: Protect the pandas of Africa – elephants. When the buying stops the killing can too. Image courtesy of WildAid.
The article, titled “The Blood Ivory: Behind the Largest Ivory Smuggling Cases in China”, identified Chinese consumption as the main driver of elephant poaching. It noted links between the ivory trade and terror and rebel groups in Africa.
The ivory trade has exploded in recent years due to surging demand from middle class consumers in China. Conservationists estimate that up to 35,000 elephants may have been killed in 2012 alone.
The carnage has spurred several NGO’s, including WCS, to step up campaigns targeting both the supply and demand sides of the trade. In September, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) gave these efforts a boost when it launched a massive push to catalyze support for stopping “blood ivory”.
The poster reads: Do you want to own ivory dripping with blood? When the buying stops the killing can too. Image courtesy of WildAid.
But reaching Chinese buyers has remained a challenge. Therefore WCS welcomed the news that elephant ivory is now garnering attention in China.
“To have the influential mainstream media make the link between the elephant crisis and the Chinese demand for ivory is hugely significant,” Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO, said in a statement.
“In China, it’s not just what is said but who says it,” added Joe Walston, Executive Director of WCS’s Asia Program. “To have the Southern Weekly give its front page to an article highlighting China’s role in the ivory trade is monumental. This is no longer a fringe topic.”