China has reversed a controversial decision to lift a 25-year-old ban on the use of tiger and rhino parts in science and traditional medicine after an outcry from environmental activists.
Three strict bans – the import and export of rhinos, tigers and their by-products, the sale, purchase, transport, carrying and mailing of rhinos, tigers and their by-products and the use of rhino horns and tiger bones in medicine – will remain in force, a senior official from the State Council, China’s cabinet, said in a statement.
“The Chinese government has not changed its stance on wildlife protection and will not ease the crackdown on illegal trafficking and trade of rhinos, tigers and their by-products and other criminal activities,” State Council Executive Deputy Secretary-General Ding Xuedong said.
The decision to overturn the ban was “postponed after study,” the statement said.
The government will organise special crackdown campaigns with a focus on addressing the illegal trade in rhinos, tigers and their by-products, it added.
China had announced last month it would reverse the ban on the use of rhino and tiger parts for medicinal and scientific purposes.
With tigers and rhinos already under threat of extinction from poachers and the illegal wildlife trade, the decision prompted anger from wildlife and environmental groups with WWF warning of “devastating consequences”.
Both tigers and rhinos are listed in Appendix 1 of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), meaning all commercial trade is banned.
“WWF welcomes the news that China has postponed lifting its ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn and tiger bone, signalling a positive response to international reaction,” Margaret Kinnaird, Wildlife Practice Leader, said in a statement. “Allowing trade from even captive animals could have had devastating impacts on wild rhino and tiger populations.”
About 3,800 tigers are thought to be left in the wild, with at least 7,000 of the big cats kept in captive breeding facilities, mainly in China and Vietnam.
About 30 percent of seized tiger products come from tiger farms, according to TRAFFIC, which monitors and investigates the illegal wildlife trade.
China and Vietnam are the main markets for rhino horn and some 2,149 rhino horns were seized by law enforcement between 2010 and 2017. TRAFFIC estimates three rhinos are poached for their horns every day in South Africa.
China insisted any illegal trade in wildlife would be “dealt with severely”.
WWF said that the Chinese government’s 1993 ban on the trade of tiger bone and rhino horn had been crucial in helping to protect the two species.
“It is important to send a strong message that the value of wild populations of tigers and rhinos and their ecosystems is much greater than the value of their parts and horns,” Kinnaird said.