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Wildlife Conservation Program Marks 10 Years

"When the buying stops, the killing can stop, too."

If there is a diminishing demand for rhino horns, elephant tusks, tiger furs and bones, bear claws and bile, and sharks' fins, then the poaching and killing of endangered animals will gradually decline.

This was the message of Peter Knights, a British environmentalist and conservationist running the San Francisco-based WildAid, as he spoke in Taipei to mark the considerable progress made in the campaign to save endangered species.

Ten years ago, the Active Conservation Awareness Program to protect endangered like tigers, bears and rhinos was launched in Taiwan. Since then, Knights has seen a clear shift in conservation awareness and attitude here.

"When we started, we never dreamed of how successful ACAP would become," Knights recalled. "We had no money then. All we had was an idea that people all over the world care about animals and do not want to see them become extinct.

"ACAP still has no money but we now have a lot of friends, who contribute their skills and their resources. ACAP has grown so that we reach one billion people a week with our messages."

Knights, who graduated from the London School of Economics and then worked as an investigator of the illegal animal trade before setting up WildAid, reported that the growing middle class in China is increasing the demand for sharks' fins at the dining table.

"But many people in China don't even know that the fins are from sharks because the Chinese word makes no mention of sharks."

Supporters of the campaign against shark finning have openly stayed away from shark's fins soup when dining in Chinese restaurants. President Chen Shui-bian set an example by keeping the dish off the menu at the wedding reception of his daughter a few years ago.

Ang Lee, director of the award-winning film titled "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman," likewise gave his endorsement of the slogan: "When the buying stops, the killing can stop, too."

Knights admitted it could take a whole generation or longer to educate people about animal conservation vis-a-vis human benefits. Older Chinese generations, for example, may continue to believe in the traditional medicinal power of bile from the bear's gallbladder, thereby keeping poachers in business. Knights personally went to check out China's "bear farms," where bears are kept in cages and a permanent shunt "milks" the liver-produced bile from the gallbladder.

Taiwan, however, has led the campaign to protect and save the Siberian bear, said Luis Ko, executive director of the I-Mei Environmental Protection Foundation, one of ACAP's major partners.

Appealing to children is an effective approach, according to Knights. They are going to make the difference in safeguarding animals from extinction, he said, and at yesterday's event to mark the 10-year milestone of ACAP, children were gathered to form a young, vigilant group dedicated to the protection of animals.