A 12-year-old student, Huang Weilan, said in an interview that she had collected nearly 200 signatures on an anti-shark-fin petition from friends of her parents. “It’s quite easy to convince people because I am a kid, “ she said. “Generally adults don’t like to say no to children.”
On a recent sunny Saturday morning in Beijing, students from the China University of Mining and Technology gathered in a park collecting pledges from young and old not to consume the soup.
Sixty-eight-year-old Zhang Xianying, walking his grandson in a stroller, said he had barely had enough food to survive when he was young, and he had tasted shark fin soup more recently “just so I could tell people I had eaten it.”
But he said he was happy to sign the pledge after learning how cruel the trade was, and how important sharks were to the marine food chain.
Buoyed by the results of the shark fin campaign, conservationists are now turning their attention to the trade in ivory and rhino horn. Some 25,000 elephants were poached last year, and 668 rhinos killed in South Africa alone, with China the largest market for ivory, and the second largest for rhino horn behind Vietnam.
The Chinese government is more defensive about the ivory trade, seeing carving as part of traditional culture. Licensed workshops are allowed to use existing stockpiles of ivory to make ornaments, jewelry and chopsticks, but this legal business has provided the cover for a vast illegal trade.
But attitudes can change, and the Chinese government is not intransigent. A major investor in Africa, it does not want to be seen as the reason for widespread insecurity caused by poaching. In September, it started sending text messages to every Chinese cellphone user who touched down in Kenya, warning them to “not carry illegal ivory, rhino horn or any other wildlife.“
Zhang Jie contributed to this report.