China has prohibited the trade in Rhino and Tiger body parts since 1993.
This ban was suddenly reversed last week and this allows parts from captive animals to be used for scientific, medical, and cultural uses. The Chinese State Council said powdered forms of rhino horn and dead tiger bones could be used in “qualified hospitals by qualified doctors.” They can be used in “medical research and healing.” Parts from “antiques” (virtually impossible to discern) can be used in cultural exchanges if approved.
There is no proven medicinal value and conservationists agree the move will be a major setback for wild populations. It increases pressure pressure on supply and selling horn signifies it’s ethically OK to buy it.
All conservation groups and experts believe this will INCREASE DEMAND and negatively affect efforts to protect these already endangered animals. Global conservation groups are outraged. Iris Ho, of Humane Society International states “The Chinese government has signed a death warrant for wild rhinos and tigers.” Allowing exceptions to the ban invites people to lie about the origin of animal parts. Ho adds: “This is a devastating blow to our ongoing work to save species from cruel exploitation and extinction, and we implore the Chinese government to reconsider.”
Traditional Chinese medicine asserts that rhino horn and tiger bone cure illnesses from fever to brain disease. These are highly profitable but there is NO evidence to support any benefit to humans. The new directive implies tiger and rhino parts have medical value. The traditional Chinese Medicine lobby in China is strong and supported by President Xi who gives it equal support with western drugs. Illegal wild animals are believed to have greater efficacy. China is promoting this medicine overseas and diplomats are lobbying CITES to loosen controls on trade. It is a100 billion dollar industry with over 500,000 practitioners. Horn is clearly a potent status symbol as well.
World Wildlife Fund states that this reversal will have “devastating consequences” and pose “an enormous setback” in efforts to protect the remaining animals in the wild. Furthermore “it would increase confusion by consumers and law enforcement as to which parts are and are not legal.” WWF urgently calls on China to maintain the ban on tiger bone and rhino horn and to close captive facilities.
Racel Nuwer, author of Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking , proclaims this could mean “game over” for the last tigers and rhinos in the wild.
Undoing the 25 year ban puts pressure on poor nations where enforcement is difficult.
Other leading environmental groups agree it puts rhinos at risk in their African and Asian countries and that the news is “a staggering display of brazen disregard for global opinion.”
Susan Lieberman, vice President of Wildlife Conservation Society says the new legality of tiger bone and rhino horn use will be a major win for traffickers.
China’s government defends its decision asserting that the ban on all uses of rhino horn and tiger bones fails to accommodate the “practical and reasonable needs of medical healing”. Chinese State media portrayed the announcement as an effort to protect rhinos and tigers by improving oversight. The State Council avers that medical use of rhino and tiger parts will be strictly monitored. But the demand for medicines cannot be met and poaching will thus increase.
To make matters even worse, according to Don Pinnock, a South African investigator, the fix is in between China and South Africa’s Wildlife Department. In his view, the officials who are supposed to protect animals are eying profits out of China. It is a double edged sword—they increase the sale of horn with one hand and come down on poaching with the other.