China reverses 25-year-old ban on tiger bone, rhino horn for medicine

Photo: VCG

China has reversed a 25-year-old ban on the use of tiger bones and rhino horns in traditional Chinese medicine and medical research, in a move that wildlife activists say will be a setback to efforts to protect the increasingly endangered animals.

In a statement released on Monday, the State Council, China’s cabinet, said tiger and rhino parts could now be used in “medical research and healing”, as long as they came from farmed animals.

“Powdered forms of bones from dead tigers and rhino horn can only be used in qualified hospitals by certified medical workers recognized by the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine,” the statement said.

Regarding personal collection of tiger bone and rhino horn, the statement said cllectors should register with the government and it can only be gifted or inherited. Products that were “illegally obtained” will be confiscated.

Tiger bone and rhino horn are often used in traditional Chinese medicine, though many people doubt their effectiveness in treating illness.

The new policy was criticized by conservation group World Wildlife Fund (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, WWF’s wildlife practice leader, said in a statement on Monday.

“The resumption of a legal market for these products is an enormous setback to efforts to protect tigers and rhinos in the wild,” Kinnaird added.

Humane Society International also criticized China’s latest move, saying that “the trade it engenders will inevitably increase pressure on animals in the wild.”

However, Ji Wei, an independent wildlife researcher, told the country’s leading media group Caixin that he believes China’s regulation change will not necessarily lead to an increased threat to wild populations of rhino and tigers.

Judging from China’s experience in protecting wild tigers, the biggest threats are still their shrinking habitats, shortage of prey, and conflicts with humans, Ji said.

“Making use of farm-raised tigers in accordance with regulations, including healing people, does not necessarily threaten the survival of wild tigers,” Ji said. “Actually, the funds earned can even be used to protect the wild tigers’ habitats.”

According to a report presented during the Third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in 2016, an estimated 3,890 tigers remain alive in the wild, and thousands of tigers are believed to be bred on Chinese farms.

Studies put the population of wild rhinos at less than 30,000, while poaching is reducing that number drastically each year.

China banned all use and trading of tiger bone and rhino horn in 1993, after it joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, an international agreement among governments of over 170 countries.

In that year, both tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopoeia.

Lu Kang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters at a daily briefing on Tuesday that part of the 1993 regulations“conflicts with existing law and fails to accommodate the practical and reasonable needs of scientific research, education, law enforcement and appraisal, medical healing and cultural relics protection and exchanges.”

“The new rule actually strengthened the regulation, as the 1993 regulation addressed only the sales and use of rhino horns and tiger bones, but lacked specified regulations on other rhino and tiger products, thus leaving loopholes for cracking down on bad behavior like eating tiger meat and manufacturing and selling tiger skin-made clothes,” Lu said.

“We have noted the concerns made by relevant parties of the international community. We would like to have adequate communication and exchanges with them to improve mutual understanding,” he concluded.

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