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FLORA AND FAUNA
China crushes six tonnes of ivory: state media
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 06, 2014


First Taiwan-born panda cub Yuan Zai makes public debut
Taipei (AFP) Jan 06, 2014 - The first giant panda cub born in Taiwan made her much-anticipated public debut Monday, entertaining thousands of excited fans who flocked to her enclosure.

Yuan Zai clambered around a wooden structure inside the enclosure while mother Yuan Yuan munched bamboo. The cub captivated the crowds for 40 minutes before falling asleep.

"Her muscles are getting stronger and stronger. It is no problem for her to crawl up and down the structure," Taipei Zoo spokesman Chao Ming-chieh said.

"But whenever her activity slows down, then she is telling you that she needs a nap."

The exhibition centre at Taipei Zoo was swamped with fans -- many of them parents with their children -- keen to get the first pictures of the six-month-old cub.

Panda-mania swept Taiwan after Yuan Zai was delivered on July 6 following a series of artificial insemination sessions because her parents -- Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan -- failed to conceive naturally.

She weighed 180 grams (6.35 ounces) at birth, but now weighs around 14 kilograms.

Zoo authorities said that visitors flocked to the enclosure when the zoo's gates were opened. Each was permitted to stay for a maximum of 10 minutes, limiting the total entering each day to 19,200.

Zookeepers had to separate tiny Yuan Zai from her mother a few days after birth after her leg was slightly injured, raising her in an incubator with round-the-clock monitoring.

Mother and daughter were reunited for the first time on August 13, an encounter that saw the giant panda licking and cuddling her baby before they fell asleep together inside a cage. The footage was broadcast around the world and made waves on the Internet.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names mean "reunion" in Chinese, were given to Taiwan by China in December 2008 and have become star attractions at Taipei Zoo, as well as a symbol of warming ties between the former bitter rivals.

Fewer than 1,600 pandas remain in the wild, mainly in China's Sichuan province, with a further 300 in captivity around the world.

China crushed a pile of ivory reportedly weighing more than six tonnes on Monday, in a landmark event aimed at shedding its image as a global hub for the illegal trade in African elephant tusks.

Clouds of dust emerged as masked workers fed tusks into crushing machines in what was described as the first public destruction of ivory in China.

The event in the southern city of Dongguan was "the country's latest effort to discourage illegal ivory trade, protect wildlife and raise public awareness", the official news agency Xinhua said.

Surging demand for ivory in Asia is behind an ever-mounting death toll of African elephants, conservationists say, as authorities have failed to rein in international smuggling networks.

Experts believe that most illegal ivory is headed to China -- where products made from the material have long been seen as status symbols -- with some estimating the country accounts for as much as 70 percent of global demand.

Chinese forestry and customs officials oversaw the destruction, which was shown live by state broadcaster CCTV. It reported that the ivory weighed 6.1 tonnes and had been seized over a period of years.

The UN congratulated China on the "milestone event".

"As well as create critical public awareness, such actions send a clear message that wildlife crime will not be tolerated," UN Environment Programme director Achim Steiner said in a statement.

He said an estimated 47,000 elephants were killed in Africa in 2011 and 2012.

"Yet, there is reason for optimism. International cooperation is paving the way towards improved law enforcement and increased efforts to reduce demand. These efforts need to be stepped up and strengthened to produce the desired results," Steiner said.

London-based conservation group Save The Elephants also welcomed China's action.

"With measures like this we can still save elephants from being driven towards extinction," said founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton.

Some of the crushed ivory powder would be disposed of and some displayed in a museum exhibit, while the rest would be "preserved", state-run China National Radio reported.

The powder can be used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

China was in March named by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as one of eight nations failing to do enough to tackle the illegal trade in elephant ivory.

CITES banned international ivory trading in 1989, but with poaching continuing the environmental group WWF estimates there could be as few as 470,000 African elephants left.

Other countries have carried out similar exercises, with the US crushing six tonnes of ivory in November. The Philippines destroyed five tonnes of tusks in June, and Kenya set fire to a pile weighing the same amount in 2011.

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