ON OCT 29, 2018, China announced its decision to lift a ban imposed in 1993 on rhino and tiger products used for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
This announcement was an official reversal in favour of the medicinal and other uses of rhino and tiger products, and is arguably a monumental setback for China’s wildlife protection efforts.
Conservation and wildlife experts around the world expressed deep concern over the long-term impact of this policy change on the fate of the remaining individuals of the two iconic species in the wild.
To Chinese wildlife activists, the policy change represented a major blow to China’s reputation in the global coalition for wildlife protection.
In the face of this global outcry, on Nov 12 Chinese authorities changed track, stating that the lifting of the ban has been “postponed after study”. It is unclear how long this postponement will last.
But why did China lift the ban in the first place?
As a famous saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. The policy reversal was a result of years of efforts made by a coalition of forces since 1993.
China has a formidable wildlife farming business interest. The tiger and rhino farming businesses are the most vocal supporters of the policy reversal.
For years, they have lobbied for a reversal of the 1993 policy. Their effort was most coordinated in
China’s single rhino farmer is another active opponent of the 1993 ban. The business was started in 2005 for the purpose of using farmed rhino horns for TCM use – 12 years after the 1993 ban was implemented.
In 2006, the first group of 12 rhinos were imported to the farm’s breeding ‘experiment centre’ in Hainan Island.
Close to 100 or more rhinos were later shipped to the
Supporters of wildlife
One academic in the field of medicine and public health has defended the exploitation of wildlife in nationalistic terms, accusing critics of entertaining ulterior motives for undermining TCM and for introducing Western pharmaceutical products into China.
The most responsible actors behind the policy change, however, are the Chinese authorities themselves.
In October 2005, the Chinese government supported a policy proposal on turning TCM production into a strategic and globally-oriented business to be protected by the state. The fact that rhino farming was started in 2006 was partly attributable to the state’s promotion of TCM production.
The two above-mentioned tiger farms could not have survived much longer with the 1993 ban in place. For years, the two farms were engaged in the production and marketing of ‘tiger bone wine’, in contravention of the ban and with local authorities turning a blind eye.
Following the launch of the rhino farming ‘experiment’, the State Forestry Bureau reportedly pulled together a group of experts and scientists to certify the rhino horn shaving technology.
In 2012, the People’s Daily, the official organ of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, gave a glowing report on the rhino farming operation calling it a “breakthrough” that could contribute to public health of humanity.
The most decisive step taken by the Chinese government was the revised Wildlife Protection Law (WPL) of 2016. In this revised WPL, Article 25 advanced the concept of “captive-bred offspring”, thereby allowing captive animals to be treated differently from animals in the wild, while Article 29 allowed the use of these animals for medicinal purposes.
These two articles laid the groundwork for the future lifting of the 1993 ban.
It’s important to
The postponement could have been the result of the global criticism, which seemed to shock the Chinese authorities. Alternatively, it could also be due to the lack of consensus on the best implementation measures for managing the trade of rhino and tiger parts.
To worldwide wildlife protectionists, there is only one solution to the current confusion: reinstating the 1993 ban.
The commercial interest of the wildlife farming industry is no national interest of China. The Chinese authorities should stand on the right side of history.
This piece was first published at Policy Forum, Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and opinion.