China allows use of tiger, rhino products

Elias Hubbard
November 1, 2018

China's state council has unexpectedly reversed a 25-year ban on using tiger bones and rhinoceros horn for scientific and medical purposes, while promising stricter controls.

The State Council, China's cabinet, said in a policy directive that it would legalize the use of rhino horns and tiger bones for "medical research or in healing", but only by certified hospitals and doctors, and only from rhinos and tigers raised in captivity, excluding zoo animals.

China says it will allow trading in products made from endangered tigers and rhinos under "special circumstances", reversing a previous ban and bringing condemnation from conservation groups.

The World Wildlife Fund said the move to overturn the ban would have "devastating consequences globally" by allowing poachers and smugglers to hide behind legalized trade.

The announcement on Monday threatened to undermine President Xi Jinping's efforts to promote an image of China as a responsible environmental steward capable of tackling global issues such as climate change and air pollution. He added that the decision "comes completely out of the blue, and with no rationale".

"At a single stroke, China has shattered its reputation as a growing leader in conservation following its domestic ban on the sale of ivory at the start of the year", the group said. China's domestic ban, which went into effect this year, was widely applauded as a critical step in ending elephant poaching in Africa.

"In the midst of poaching crises, China should be working to stem demand, not condoning rhino horn and tiger bones in unproven medical treatments".

"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".

Both these products were removed from being used in traditional Chinese medicine in 1993, with the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies releasing a statement in 2010 urging members to not use parts of any endangered species.

Rhino horn and tiger products classified as "antiques" could be used in "cultural exchanges" with the approval of culture authorities, although they still may not be sold on the market or exchanged via the internet. Tiger bone, often turned into tiger bone wine or so-called glue, is thought to boost health, cure a range of ailments and increase virility for men. Experts note that raising tigers in farms is an incredibly expensive thing - a factor that may have prompted the government to open a legal market for the animal parts. The government hopes that Chinese medicine will win global acceptance alongside Western therapies.

Chinese state media claimed that the move would actually benefit animals by improving the monitoring of the trade.

The policy revision also runs counter to moves by traditional Chinese medicine groups to throw their weight behind conservation.

An estimated 3,890 tigers remain alive in the wild while studies put the population of wild rhinos at less than 30,000.

Illegal poaching has continued to thrive in China owing to a strong demand in the growingly affluent country, despite the 1993 ban aimed at halting the decline in animal stocks.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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