Outrage at the looting of Africa’s wildlife and environmental destruction by Chinese nationals boiled over in Namibia last month in a strongly worded letter of protest to the Chinese Ambassador, Xiun Shunkang, signed by almost every environmental protection and research organisation in the country.
Because Chinese nationals cannot travel independently, the letter states, they appear to be part of a state-supported system and fall under the authority of the Ambassasor. “As such, we call on you to put a stop to the illegal wildife crimes perpetrated, encouraged, funded, incentivised or otherwise committed and supported by some Chinese nationals in Namibia.”
The letter, coordinated by the Namibian Chamber of Environment, notes that, until the arrival of Chinese nationals in significant numbers in Namibia, commercial wildlife crime was low. But as Chinese nationals set up businesses, networks, acquired mineral prospecting licenses and offered payment for wildlife products, so poaching, illegal wildlife capture, collection, killing and export increased exponentially.
Chinese nationals, it says, have been involved in or are the commercial drivers behind:
- The escalating poaching of rhinos and elephants and the illegal export of rhino horn and ivory,
- The capture, trade and export of pangolins,
- The import of Chinese monofilament nets which are destroying fisheries on the Zambezi, Chobe, Kwando and Okavango rivers,
- The unsustainable commercialization of fisheries in these rivers and wetland systems,
- The capture and killing of carmine bee-eaters at their breeding colonies,
- The rise in bush-meat poaching wherever Chinese nationals are working on road construction and other infrastructure,
- The illegal collection of shellfish,
- The illegal transit through Namibia and attempted export of poached abalone from the Cape,
- Starting a shark fin industry,
- The capture of marine mammals and seabirds for the Asian aquarium market.
During November several Chinese nationals were apprehended and charged with wildlife crimes, including illegal possession of rhino horn, ivory and pangolin skins and scales. Conservation organisations estimated that the losses to Namibia’s wildlife and ecosystems caused by Chinese nationals is around N$811 million. This excludes the cost to Namibia’s government, donors, communities, private sector and NGOs to combating wildlife crimes.
“We support our government’s policy of attracting foreign investment to stimulate growth, employment and development,” the conservationists write, “and we counter all forms of xenophobia and profiling. But we expect foreign investors and their nationals to abide by Namibia’s laws and to embrace Namibia’s cultures, ethics, and values.
“Your embassy is on record stating that it will not allow a few of its nationals who have been arrested in connection with poaching to tarnish its country’s image. [But] too many Chinese nationals have abused Namibia’s environmental laws and this is causing growing resentment and anger. By their criminal actions, some Chinese nationals have drawn attention to themselves and their nationality through their blatant disregard of Namibia’s legal and environmental values.
“While we recognize that not all Chinese nationals are involved in wildlife crimes, we believe the situation regarding Chinese nationals committing wildlife crimes in Namibia is far more serious and broad-based than you have acknowledged. We are concerned at how little action the Chinese embassy in Namibia appears to be taking to address the problem.”
Featured image: Carmine bee eater. Credit Graham van de Ruit, CC BY-NC 2.0.