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Lonely Road of Going Global
For Peaceland Foundation, an NGO established initially in China, the idea of going global was formally sprouted ten years ago. With this goal, the organisation started actively attending rescues in neighbouring countries, including Myanmar and Nepal, in 2015. It was also the same year that Wang Ke – one of the key figures in the Foundation – commenced reaching out to international organizations, hoping that an anti-poaching project led by the Foundation can take root in Africa, so that NGOs from China can radiate its humanitarian power through active practices in global wildlife protection.
However, these applications were either directly rejected or silently sinking into the sea. Even though some international organisations showed their willingness to let Wang’s team join, yet later it turned out that they were more interested in using Wang’s team as Chinese undercover agents to act like buyers and help catch the local poachers or sellers.
Wang Ke resolutely refused it and decided to step on a lonely road without attaching to any international NGOs. They communicated with the local organisations in person with a small volunteer group as well as supporting materials, showing their determination on long-term project and insistent technique supports. Finally, with Wang’s efforts, Zimbabwe allowed his team to carry out anti-poaching activities in one of their World Natural Heritage Sites, the Mana Pools National Park.
Adapting and Cooperating
Zimbabwe, where the magnificent Victoria Falls locates and the Zambezi River flows, is the home for more than 200 wild species. It represents the diversity of African wildlife, but at the same time, also a cornucopia that many poachers put an eye on.
The Mana Pools National Park is exactly one example. Located in north-western Zimbabwe, it covers an area of 2,900 square kilometres. About 5000 to 8000 African elephants, as well as endangered wild animals such as African lions and African wild dogs live there. Due to the primitive environment, poaching frequently occurs there, making the wildlife – especially the local African elephant population – being seriously threatened.
Although the local anti-poaching work eagerly needs help, Wang’s team was still not welcomed in the beginning, mainly caused by the distrust during the cooperation. Some local officials thought Wang’s team was secretly hunting under the banner of anti-poaching, and others questioned the professionalism of Chinese anti-poaching volunteers. Wang also admitted the difficulty, “Trust can only be solved by time. You cannot do anything without the trust of local people [translated].” (Jiang, Lü & Gu, 2019).
Another complexity lies in lifestyle adaptation. The camp that Chinese anti-poaching volunteers have lived in was overlapped with wild animals’ living space. Stepping out of the camp, you may see a lion lying down to bask in the sun just ten metres away, or elephants quietly bowing their heads down to observe the camp. This is a process for Chinese volunteers to learn how to adapt to the wild field, but more importantly, to understand how to really respect other animals’ living space on this land as human beings.
During the first three years, there were five anti-poaching operations conducted by the Peaceland Foundation in the Mana Pools National Park (the details of each operation can be viewed in the timeline illustration).
In order to effectively deter ivory poachers, Wang’s team has equipped with advanced technical services such as helicopters, speedboats, powered delta planes, unmanned aerial vehicles, night vision devices, patrol boats, thermal imaging devices, self-defence guns, and so on. These techniques have greatly enlarged the patrol area to the air and water space and makes reconnaissance more efficient.
But just as many volunteers pointed out in the interview, the real difficulty is not from technical perspective, it was the endless process of learning how to live in this wild field and how to collaborate.
“Your action represents the image of Chinese people [translated].” One of them said. Eliminating the international misunderstandings on Chinese is never an easy thing, but it is always worth making efforts.
With the joint effort from the Park officials and Wang’s team, poaching in the Mana Pools National Park has been in great control and almost disappeared by the last year. Nevertheless, this is not the end of the story; quickly, new problems arise in front of them.
Recently the Mana Pools National Park was severely affected by drought, making hay and well water undersupply. The number of elephant herds is growing inversely proportional to their habitat area and caused a surplus of elephants in some areas, who may then invade the human living space at any time. Such conflict between humans and animals is not only reflected on the level of ecological capacity, but also on a deeper one.
Not long ago, the United Nations has released the annual report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”, which shows the sharpest rise in hunger was in Africa. It estimates that the prevalence of undernourishment – at 21 per cent of the population – is more than double of any other region (Food and Agriculture, 2021); while at the same time, many officials in Namibia have complained that due to natural elephant deaths and other reasons, the country’s ivory inventory has been increasing in recent years, but unable to be sold (Tian, 2019). How to deal with these “priceless” ivory has become the country’s big burden. Some African countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia even successively voiced their hopes to “allow the hunting and trafficking of elephants” and “remove the global ivory trade ban and sell ivory stocks”, so that part of the funds could be used to help alleviate people’s basic living conditions (Tian, 2019). Facing these voices, local people working on animal welfare inevitably fall into a trapped situation.
The Essence of Anti-Poaching is Anti-Poverty
“Unlike what was imagined, the poachers in Zimbabwe are not professionally armed groups; most of them are poor residents. Ivory dealers provide them with guns, and the ivory purchase is as convenient as the purchase of agricultural products. For poor residents, it’s a means of earning a living [translated].” Yingjie Wang once said (Xu, 2017). This is why every time Wang’s team caught a poacher, even though it seemed like a triumph, there was always a family tragedy behind it. Most of these local poachers are at the bottom of the ivory trade chain, and they are the ones who take great risks only to survive and support their families.
Therefore, anti-poaching operations cannot be limited to patrolling, catching poachers, and upgrading equipment. To eradicate poaching, it should include a series of poverty elimination and educational work for residents. Also, developing the tourism industry could be one possible direction to work on, which can help boost the local economy.
All in all, behind the slogan “No Trading, No Killing”, the problem is always complicated.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2021). UN Report: Pandemic
Year Marked by Spike in World Hunger.
Jiang, H., Lü, X., & Gu, Y. (2019). I Am Doing Anti-poaching in Africa [translated]. Pengpai
Tian, S. (2019). Controversy on Ivory Selling: The Harsh Situation of African
Elephants and African People [translated]. Jiemian News.
Xu, Y. (2017). The First Experience of Animal Welfare Protection in Africa [translated].
Xinhuashe News. https://xhpfmapi.zhongguowangshi.com/vh512/share/1469964
Author: Zhong Sijia
Editor: Li Ling, Li Tiange