One thing I really like about the International Fund for Animal Welfare is that the organization never sleeps. At all times, all year round, somewhere around the world, someone from IFAW is working to help animals.
When the western hemisphere ends a day, our offices in the Far East are just starting to buzz. Towards the end of the year when people on the Western calendar are winding down to celebrate the holiday season, a flurry of activities keeps the staff in China busy.
This phenomenon is particularly prominent this year. December has turned out to be the busiest month of 2011, with multiple activities happening simultaneously in different places across China.
December started with a victory to protect tigers from illegal trade. Our office staff in Beijing were shocked to discover a liquor and health tonics auction titled,“Bouncing Dragon, Jumping Tiger” scheduled to sell more than 400 bottles of tiger bone wine, a product banned from trade since 1993 in China.
Through notifying the authorities about this illegal sale and urging for enforcement, we alerted the international community of this audacious violation of China’s pledge to protect wild tigers by cracking down on trade of tiger products.
Our tip-off worked, on December 3, the day of the auction, a government order prevented the sale of tiger bone wine. If the sale had gone ahead, it would certainly have stimulated further demand for tiger products, which fuels poaching of wild tigers.
In our campaign to reduce commercial exploitation of wildlife, we monitor sales on both online and offline markets, provide information about illegal wildlife trade to law enforcement agencies and urge market places to eliminate the trade in animals and their parts.
Through our office efforts, China’s largest online trade websites, Alibaba and Taobao have put in place policies banning the trade of wildlife species and their products, such as tiger parts, bear bile, elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin.
At the invitation of those websites, on December 17-18, IFAW set up a “Say No to Wildlife Trade” booth at Taobao’s annual trade fair in Shanghai, which was attended by thousands of online traders.
Hitching a ride home on the high-speed train to Shanghai, resting in a darkened box by the side of IFAW’s Communications Manager Jeff He, were two highly endangered birds of prey—a Grass Owl and an Asian Barred Owl.
Months earlier, the birds were caught into illegal trade and presumably transported up north, since both species range in south of China. When being sold on the wildlife markets in Beijing, they were rescued by kind-hearted residents and sent to IFAW’s Beijing Raptor Rescue Center. Now fully recovered from the trauma and injuries of captivity, the raptors were returning home thousands of miles away, where in a nature reserve, they would take flight again.
From Shanghai, IFAW Program Officer, Juan Wang took a short train ride to Hangzhou, Taobao’s Headquarters, where she provided a training seminar on wildlife and wildlife products identification. Accurate identification of wildlife species in trade will help Taobao staff eliminate illegal listings of wildlife and their products, as well as gather evidence to aid prosecution.
December also saw the completion of another “Spay-Relay”—an IFAW companion animal project taking vaccination and sterilization services to rural communities.
Months of preparation, including technical trainings, community outreach and government coordination, have to take place before the Spay-Relay event.
Participating veterinarians, technicians and volunteers have gone through several sessions of training to conduct the procedures adhering to the highest standards of care for animals; Outreach and education activities are organized to raise community awareness about responsible pet ownership and humane animal population control; Volunteers and IFAW staff have combed the village signing up animals for the event, purchased supplies, selected and cleaned the venue.
For two days in mid December, three dozen dogs and cats were spayed and neutered in a makeshift hospital in a village outside of Beijing by a team of Chinese volunteer veterinarians led by IFAW’s veterinary advisor Dr. Kati Loeffler.
At Kati’s side, translating and assisting is Ying Li, a wildlife rehabilitator at BRRC. Trained in veterinary medicine, Ying Li provides essential support to the companion animal projects.
It is common for IFAW staff to step out of their job description to lend a helping hand in another program. On December 25, when 30 volunteers from various animal rescue groups attended an all-day seminar on animal communication and handling at IFAW, another wildlife rehabilitator, Yugang Shang contributed his experience on animal behavior.
Yugang was also to be part of a two-person team from IFAW to deliver a training workshop to hundreds of policemen in Guangzhou on December 28 and 29.
At the request of the dog management unit in the Guangzhou police department, IFAW is providing a training session on humane dog management and animal handling techniques. Leading the workshop was IFAW China’s Campaign Manager, Ning Hua, who two days earlier had just participated in another workshop on elephant conservation.
For 12 years, IFAW’s successful project, “living in harmony with elephants” has gained the trust and support of the government officials and the local communities in Yunnan province, where China’s remaining 300 Asian elephants (elephas maximus) live.
On December 24-25, a conference brought nature reserve managers and conservation experts from the elephant distribution areas together to share information and experiences. Several conservation measures established by IFAW, such as the elephant monitoring system, the multi-agency precautionary approach to prevent human-elephant conflicts, were applauded by the conference participants and adopted into work plans for 2012.
Part of the conference agenda is a test training course to try out the new “Tour Guide Training Manual”. To promote better understanding and protection for the remaining elephants and the ecosystem they serve, IFAW has developed a set of materials for training tour guides who can then convey conservation and animal welfare messages to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the area each year.
While protecting elephants habitats, we are keenly aware that China’s ivory market and the surging demand is posing tremendous threat to both Asian and African elephants.
In December, IFAW submitted a report to government authorities about the rampant illegal ivory trade going on under the cover of legal domestic market. Based on our report, a prominent Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend did an extensive article on the trade.
A long and arduous road is ahead to gain protections for animals in China and around the world, from dogs and cats to tigers and elephants.
However, as 2011 draws to a close, I relish the tremendous achievements we have accomplished this year and feel incredibly proud. The dedication and hard work of IFAW colleagues around the world are truly making a difference for animals.