Bengaluru, Oct 31: In a move that could affect India’s wildlife population, China has legalised the use of rhino horn and tiger bone in medical research or traditional medicine. Wildlife activists fear that the new rules could fuel the illegal trade and further put the animals at risk of being poached.
China has always been the biggest consumer of the wildlife produce, placing itself on the first spot. This comes as no surprise as traditional Chinese medicine comprise of the natural flora and fauna in its various forms. Age old practices and continued blind belief, without control and concern for the environment has stripped many regions of their bio-diverse wealth.
World’s last male northern white rhino dies in Ol Pejeta Conservancy
In the 1900s, only a few hundred rhinos survived in the wild and by 1972, the tiger population had dipped to a 1,827. Today, there are over 2,200 rhinos (85% of the global population) and tigers (70% of the global population) in the country.
A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Patel and team in 2015 pinpointed China as the most important country or ‘node’ for illegal rhino and tiger trafficking. The researchers have examined several hundred confiscated shipments from August 2010 to December 2013, including 232 shipments of elephants, 165 of rhinos and 108 of tigers.
China lifts ban on trading tiger and rhino parts
In China, rhino horn and tiger bone can now be legally used in either medical research or traditional medicines after the announcement by the Chinese government. Parts from those animals classified as “antiques” could be used in cultural exchanges following approval by cultural authorities, a statement adds.
Earth’s wildlife population ‘falls by 60% in 44 years’: Report
“The government mandates clearly recording the current inventory of products and those in individual collections. Illegally obtained products will be confiscated, and products in individual collections are not to be traded again,” the statement added.
While reversing its 25-year-old ban, China said that the specimens can only be obtained from farms, conservationists argued that this would spell doom for efforts to preserve wildlife in the wild, especially in India.
Tiger bone and rhino horn are used in traditional Chinese medicine, despite a lack of evidence of their effectiveness in treating illness and the effect on wild populations. Chinese demand for ivory is also blamed as a driver behind the slaughter of African elephants, despite Beijing banning all trade in ivory starting from this year.
Conservationists raise alarm
Wildlife conservationists worry that allowing a limited trade of rhino and tiger goods will spur overall demand for related products, while efforts to crack down on wildlife contraband will be hindered.
“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”, said Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader.
“Trade in tiger bone and rhino horn was banned in 1993. The resumption of a legal market for these products is an enormous setback to efforts to protect tigers and rhinos in the wild.
“China’s experience with the domestic ivory trade has clearly shown the difficulties of trying to control parallel legal and illegal markets for ivory. Not only could this lead to the risk of legal trade providing cover to illegal trade, this policy will also stimulate demand that had otherwise declined since the ban was put in place.”
Both tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopeia in 1993, and the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies released a statement in 2010 urging members not to use tiger bone or any other parts from endangered species.
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.
“With wild tiger and rhino populations at such low levels and facing numerous threats, legalized trade in their parts is simply too great a gamble for China to take.
This decision seems to contradict the leadership China has shown recently in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of their domestic ivory market, a game changer for elephants warmly welcomed by the global community,” Kinnaird added.
India shares 4,057 km border with India and the country being an immediate neighbour will be affected. Various initiatives by state forest departments and NGOs, have resulted in drastic increase in wildlife and conversationalists fear that China’s decision may affect wildlife population in India and the globe.