18 August 2019
Rhinoceros, which are an endangered species, need government protection in order to survive. Photo: Reuters
Rhinoceros, which are an endangered species, need government protection in order to survive. Photo: Reuters

China should not remove the protection for rhinos and tigers

The State Council, China’s cabinet, recently released a circular seeking to “control the trade and use of rhinoceros, tigers and their related products … including the whole body, parts of it or any derived products”.

The country prohibits all actions that involve “sales, purchase, use and import or export of rhinoceros, tigers and their related products”, except in “special circumstances” prescribed by law, according to the circular.

These “special circumstances” refer to scientific research including collecting genetic resource materials; resource investigation; public exhibitions of skin, tissues and organs specimens on protection publicity and popular science education; medical research or healing; the protection of cultural relics; cultural exchanges; as well as enforcement and judiciary work, followed by application for authorization, in accordance with the law, from the authorities.

In other words, a person may import rhinoceros, tigers and their products as long as such imports are for scientific research or for making drugs to treating illnesses, after securing approval from the authorities in accordance with the law.

China has banned the import and export of rhino horns and tiger bones as early as in 1993. It has even removed tiger bones from the country’s official pharmacopoeia and outlawed the manufacture of all traditional Chinese pharmaceutical products containing tiger bones.

Yet Beijing’s latest decision to relax the ban has sparked widespread concern, particularly from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The organization for wildlife conservation and endangered species said the relaxation of the ban will not only provide legal cover for illegal trading of rhino and tiger parts, but may also stimulate demand for these animal products and give rise to fresh waves of rampant smuggling.

That WWF referred to the State Council circular as a regression to the situation 25 years ago.

The circular, in fact, may open the floodgates to a new round of poaching of tigers and rhinoceros in the same way the Japanese did to whales by bypassing the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling and continuing to hunt them in the name of scientific research.

Worse still, the easing of the ban on tigers, rhinoceros and their related products will not only hurt the natural environment but also encourage government-business collusion and corruption.

As such, we believe the State Council should continue to stick to its 1993 ban on the trading of rhino horns and tiger bones.

After all, the medical value of rhino horns and tiger bones is at best questionable, and there must be multiple alternatives to them in 21st-century medicine.

It is simply not worth it to relax the 25-year-old ban on rhino and tiger products.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 31

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal

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