THE Chinese government has eased a decades-old ban on the use of rhino horn and tiger parts for some medical and cultural purposes, drawing outrage from wildlife conservation groups.
The groups issued pointed statements against China’s state council on Monday over a notice that reversed the 1993 ban on the trade of tiger bones and rhino horn, according to Reuters.
While the sale, import and export of such products remain illegal, the new notice allows them to be used under “special circumstances”, like medical and scientific research, education, and for “cultural exchanges”.
The council said the bones of tigers or horns of rhinos that were bred in captivity for medical research or for treatment of critical illnesses.
The new rules, which came into effect on Oct 6, classified tiger products and rhino horn as “antiques” that could be used in “cultural exchanges” with the approval of culture authorities. However, they may not be sold on the market or traded on the internet.
WWF said Beijing’s announcement would have “devastating consequences globally” and be “an enormous setback to efforts to protect tigers and rhinos in the wild”.
“Even if restricted to antiques and use in hospitals, this trade would increase confusion by consumers and law enforcers as to which products are and are not legal, and would likely expand the markets for other tiger and rhino products,” WWF said in a statement.
Humane Society International said China’s move to reverse its 25-year old ban on domestic trade could perpetuate “cruelty while fueling demand for body parts from illegally poached wild tigers”, adding there were likely fewer than 3,500 tigers in the wild.
It said anti-smuggling investigations and market research have shown a persistent demand for rhino horns in China. The new regulations, it said, would inevitably increase pressure on animals in the wild.
“With this announcement, the Chinese government has signed a death warrant for imperilled rhinos and tigers in the wild who already face myriad threats to their survival,” Iris Ho, senior specialist for Wildlife Program and Policy at Humane Society International said in a statement.
“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.”
China has an estimated 200 commercial tiger farms that breed the animal for the medicinal and luxury markets, but the use of tiger bones in medicine is prohibited.
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.