Published: Tue, October 30, 2018
Science | By

China allows use of tiger and rhino products, infuriating wildlife activists

China allows use of tiger and rhino products, infuriating wildlife activists

WWF said in a statement that Beijing's move would have "devastating consequences globally" and be "an enormous setback to efforts to protect tigers and rhinos in the wild".

Such special circumstances permitted by law includes scientific research, resource investigation, education, life-saving medical treatments, relics protection, cultural exchanges and law enforcement, it added.

"Regulation on the sales and use of these products will be strengthened. and the trade volume will be strictly controlled", the council said in a statement.

China did not relax restrictions on animal parts from wild sources or their import and export - which remain prohibited under global conventions.

Rhino horns and tiger bones used in medical research or in healing can only be obtained from farms, not including those raised in zoos, while powdered forms of rhino horn and bones from dead tigers can only be used in qualified hospitals by qualified doctors recognised by the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Rhino horn and tiger products classified as "antiques" could be used in "cultural exchanges" with the approval of culture authorities, although they still may not be sold on the market or exchanged via the internet.

Rhino horn is made primary from keratin - a protein found in fingernails and hair - and is said to help treat everything from cancer to hangovers when consumed. Other illegal wildlife products, such as pangolin scales, continue to see demand for their supposed medicinal properties.

The council said that horns and bones - which have always been used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine - can only be obtained from farmed animals.

"It was used in ancient times, but now we have alternative products", he said.

Reversing the tiger and rhino parts ban "seems slightly illogical, based on everything else we've seen from China recently", Henry said.

Pelham Jones, chairman of South Africa's Private Rhino Owners Association, welcomed the move, saying that the ban had "aided a massive, transnational illegal trade". In all other circumstances, the buying and selling of rhino and tiger parts will remain illegal.

"I believe it is going to serve to increase, perpetuate the wildlife trade and crime", he said.

Though numbers have increased from 2010 - up from about 3,200 to almost 3,900 - the figure represents a dramatic population decrease from a century ago, when an estimated 100,000 tigers roamed free.

Conservation groups say they were stunned by China's reversal, given President Xi Jinping's heartening position on curbing climate change and banning ivory sales previous year.

Southern white rhinos are "near threatened" but others such as black and Sumatran rhinos are critically endangered, according to WWF. Instead, conservation groups surmise that the policy will benefit China's industry of tiger farms and rhino ranches, which have flourished outside the scope of official sanctions.

The country's ban on ivory sales went into effect in December 2017, an attempt to rein in what used to be the product's largest market in the world.

The U.S. State Department, which supported China's recent ivory ban, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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