Promoting Animal Welfare in China

An elephant mother and a calf are walking into the sunset on the vast African savannah. The calf excitedly declares, “Mom, I got teeth”. The mother does not respond. The calf repeats: “Mom, I got teeth.” Aren’t you happy I’ve got teeth?”

An IFAW animal welfare campaign ad run in China.

An elephant mother and a calf are walking into the sunset on the vast African savannah. The calf excitedly declares,

“Mom, I got teeth”.

The mother does not respond. The calf repeats:

“Mom, I got teeth.”

Aren’t you happy I’ve got teeth?”

The message further explains:

Babies having teeth should bring joy to a mother.
But what does it mean for elephant families?
Because of people’s unnecessary want of ivory, hundreds and thousands of elephants are killed for the ivory trade.

If we don’t buy, they don’t die.
Say “No” to elephant ivory.

These messages are part of an educational campaign by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to reduce consumer demand for products derived from wildlife, in this case, elephant ivory. In the spring 2009, travelers in Beijing’s Capital International Airport and those riding subways in Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Nanjing began seeing huge posters that featured this message.

In Chinese, elephant ivory is called “xiang ya” (meaning: elephant teeth). This nomenclature unfortunately gave people the impression that elephant ivory, like a baby’s tooth, can fall out naturally and is, thus, a painlessly obtained, renewable product.

In a 2007 poll, IFAW found that more than 60 percent of the people did not know that the elaborately carved tusks displayed in store windows and the bracelets, signature seals and chopsticks sold on retail markets come from elephants who either died from natural causes or were killed by poachers. Encouraged by the finding that a majority (80%) of Chinese would not purchase ivory if they knew its source was a dead elephant, IFAW created the “Mom, I got teeth” poster, hoping that enlightened consumers would make animal-friendly choices. The elephant poster is the first of a series designed to reduce demand for wildlife and wildlife products by highlighting the kinship between animals and people.

Founded on a campaign to stop the brutal commercial hunt of white-coat harp seals in Canada 40 years ago, IFAW ( has been working in China since the mid 1990s to provide direct care to individual animals, improve government conservation and animal management policies, and encourage wide adoption of the concept of animal welfare. Over the years, we have seen some shift in policies and attitudes due, in part, to IFAW’s numerous projects and campaigns in China.

IFAW promotes the adoption of the precautionary principal in conservation policies, international treaties and national laws. We work to enhance the effectiveness of wildlife law enforcement by building capacity through practical training and the provision of information and equipment. We also conduct educational campaigns to motivate the public to reject wildlife products and thus, reduce demand.

Over the years, IFAW has helped to protect species threatened by consumer demand in China such as bears, tigers, elephants and seals as well as the Tibetan antelope, a species endemic to China that is threatened by a demand from luxury markets in the West for “shahtoosh shawls,” which are woven from their fur.

The growth of the Internet poses new threats to wildlife. The escalation in global Internet use increases the ease with which traders can fill burgeoning consumer appetites. The rules, regulations and laws governing the trade in endangered species are often complex, diverse and differ from country to country, yet the online trade has no boundaries. IFAW conducts investigations of online markets around the world and provides recommendations to site owners and governments that can enhance regulation and enforcement.

These investigations of online marketplaces in China are critically important because, as of April 2010, China became the largest online user country (430 million) in the world. Based on the data gathered during online wildlife trade investigations, IFAW developed a routine information-sharing mechanism with law enforcement agencies and private companies involved in Internet commerce. IFAW has alerted enforcement agencies about illegal trade activities (both online and offline), identified emerging trends and helped provide evidence for prosecutions. As a result, online shopping sites promptly eliminated illegally traded wildlife products. In partnership with these sites, we constantly update the list of “key words” to improve the product screening processes Internet companies use to block out illegally traded wildlife products.

IFAW has successfully persuaded major auction and shopping sites to ban the online trade in endangered species. Following their prohibition on offerings of live animals and endangered species, eBay banned the trade in all elephant ivory. (Chinese for “Treasure Hunt,” the largest online shopping site in China, collaborated with IFAW in a public awareness campaign to combat online wildlife crime and set up an online IFAW store to enable users to report illegal wildlife trade activities. In addition to banning the trade of all endangered and protected animals, such as tiger bone, rhino horn, turtle shell, bear bile and shark fin products.

To save China’s last Asian elephants, IFAW initiated the Asian Elephant Project in Yunnan in 1999. In the past ten years, the project has helped alleviate human elephant conflicts, map out elephant habitat needs, enhance law enforcement to curtail elephant poaching and educate the locals and tourists about the importance of wild elephant conservation.

As an animal welfare organization, IFAW’s mandate of care and protection includes wildlife populations as well as individual animals. Several large seizures of Saker falcons by Chinese enforcement agencies, and a series of failed attempts to release these raptor victims of the raptor trade in the mid 1990s, prompted IFAW to establish the first dedicated raptor rescue and rehabilitation facility in China.

Since opening in 2001, the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center, situated on the campus of Beijing Normal University, has received more than 3000 birds of prey, of which over 60% were successfully released back to the wild. Adhering to the latest scientific methods in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of birds of prey, and demonstrating the highest animal welfare standards in the care of wildlife, BRRC not only saves individual raptors, but educates people about threats to wildlife and promotes policies and actions that advance the conservation and welfare of animals.

After the massive earthquake that devastated the lives of millions of people in Sichuan in 2008, IFAW provided a mix of humanitarian and animal aid, operating in five different areas. Field teams distributed food and supplies and provided veterinary advice, primary health care and rabies vaccinations to 18 villages in Zun Dao township, delivering aid to some 1,500 dogs and 8,000 pigs.

Driven by fears of rabies outbreaks, many townships in the disaster area executed an order to kill all dogs. The methods of killing—shooting or beating with a bat—are inhumane, unpopular with local people, and ineffective at achieving the objectives of preventing dog bites and the spread of rabies. In Zun Dao, IFAW worked with local veterinary officials to vaccinate dogs and provide animal care education and training in humane animal control methods.

To enhance the welfare for companion animals, IFAW assists municipal governments in promulgating humane dog regulations that mandate vaccination, encourage spay/neuter to control population and promote responsible pet ownership. In addition to supporting local animal rescue groups that provide care to animals in distress, IFAW established the Animal Resource Center Web site ( where Chinese animal lovers can discuss issues of mutual interest, from individual animal care and adoptions to the need for China to pass anti-cruelty legislation that covers all animals.

While China has a Wildlife Protection Law (1989) that protects endangered wild animals with utilitarian value, there is no law to prevent cruelty to animals. IFAW is supporting draft legislation which would govern the way wild and domestic animals are treated in all situations. A recent online poll of 63,000 people found that 89% support an animal welfare law for China.

It is encouraging to see public support for animal welfare in China rising. Over a decade ago, when IFAW first started working in the country, we intentionally translated the organization’s name as “guo ji ai hu dong wu ji jin hui,” which means “international fund for love and protection of animals.” The intention was to emphasize human responsibility toward animals and to address the concern that “animal welfare” might not have been readily acceptable in China.

But public attitudes toward animals are definitely changing in China. One indication of this change is the number of young people across the country who participate in IFAW’s annual animal welfare education campaign—Animal Action Week.

Stepping into its 11th year in China, this campaign is carried out every year in colleges, middle and elementary schools. Animal Action Week fosters compassion, empathy and kindness toward animals. Hundreds of thousands of students embrace animal welfare and take action to benefit animals, from participating in beach clean-ups to organizing petition drives, from putting on school plays to entering art competitions. Sixth-grader, Gai Yue, questions the quality of life for the turtle his mother bought from the market. He wrote in his winning entry in the school composition contest, “The turtle’s new ‘home’ is no comparison to the immense ocean environment it was used to.” He vows to return the turtle back to the wild, “That’s where he really belongs”.

For more information about IFAW efforts in China, visit

Comments: 2

5 years ago

I will be in Cina sometime around November or December. I have worked in animal shelters in Bali & Nepal. I dont have any veterinary experience but I have been a human nurse & I LOVE animals. (especiallydogs). Could you advise me as to where there are genuine animal shelters in China or is it an ongoing problem with dog meat.
Look forward to hearing from you,

6 years ago
Is there anyone fighting against this most digusting treatment of animals I have ever seen. It is not only the cats and dogs it is all the other living creatures. The Chinese are a brutal and barbaric race when it comes to animal and human rights, but it is far more brutal on the animals.
Our live export trade of livestock are suffering yes, however the above shows far worse cruelty than you could imagine. My husband couldn't watch, nor could I all of it. The last bit is the worst a dog skinned alive a foot on its head crusing it and slicing into it (I think). If we could show this around the world, maybe people will think twice about animal rights in China. I hope you are able to see the content. If not just look up the title on google.

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