China lifts ban on trade of tiger bones and rhino horns

Conservationists warn of ‘devastating consequences’ after ban on medical use ended

Veterinarians applying bandages and stitches to a de-horned rhinoceros that was left to die by poachers on a ranch in Bela Bela, some 150km north of Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2016. Photograph: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images

Veterinarians applying bandages and stitches to a de-horned rhinoceros that was left to die by poachers on a ranch in Bela Bela, some 150km north of Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2016. Photograph: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images

 

China has lifted a quarter-century ban on the scientific and medical use of tiger bones and rhinoceros horn, in a move that conservationists said would have “devastating consequences globally” for the endangered species.

China’s State Council this week said it would grant permits for the use of tiger and rhino parts – considered by some Chinese medical practitioners as potent healing ingredients – by licensed doctors as well as for unspecified “cultural exchanges”.

“Under special circumstances, the sale, purchase, use as well as export and import of rhinoceros and tiger products may be approved under the law,” China’s cabinet said on Monday.

China, under President Xi Jinping, has sought to portray itself as more environmentally friendly, passing stricter protections over wildlife and natural resources. In 2016, China banned the sale of ivory – believed to be a cure for everything from cancer to sore throats – to reduce poaching of elephants.

But the more stringent regulations have also come into conflict with “Chinese medicine diplomacy”, an effort to use traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to expand the country’s soft power globally.

Within China, state media characterised the ban’s reversal as a way of strengthening oversight over an underground trade of endangered animal parts – an industry that has thrived despite domestic controls. According to the new rules, only hospitals and doctors certified by a state organisation for Chinese medicine will be able to collect bones or horns from rhinos and tigers raised in captivity, excluding zoo animals.

Black market

But critics of the rule change say the State Council’s move will revitalise the black market for the endangered animals, setting back decades of conservation efforts. An estimated 30,000 rhinos and 3,900 tigers remain in the wild globally, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“It is deeply concerning that China has reversed its 25-year-old tiger bone and rhino horn ban, allowing a trade that will have devastating consequences globally,” Margaret Kinnaird, head of wildlife at WWF, said in a statement after the changes were announced.

Higher living standards have increased Chinese demand for animal parts, valued for their supposed life-extending powers. A recent fervour for ejiao, a “blood-enriching” gelatin made from animal hides, has spurred scrutiny over the 4m donkeys, mainly from Africa, slaughtered annually to meet Chinese demand.

However, the use of tiger and rhino parts to treat maladies has long been controversial within the mainstream TCM world, with many practitioners calling it a fringe practice.

Tiger parts were removed from the official TCM pharmacopoeia, a list regulated by China’s health ministry, when the country first banned the trade of tiger parts in 1993. In 2010, the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies, an international non-profit established in Beijing, urged its members to stop using tiger parts or parts from other endangered wildlife. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018