After having banned it for 25 years, China will allow trade for medical purposes or scientific research of rhinoceros and tiger products. The unexpected announcement, released in a statement by the State Council – the Chinese Executive – this week, has caused a strong upset among environmental defense organizations. These groups warn that, although the lifting of the veto is only partial, it opens the way for the illegal traffic of these animals, in a vulnerable situation when not in danger of extinction.
The products, which include rhinoceros horn and tiger bones for research and use in TCM drugs, can only come from captive animals in livestock farms – not in zoos -, states the statement from the State Council. The products destined to the medicine can only be obtained of dead copies of natural death, adds the Executive. Only the doctors of hospitals recognized by the official entities of Chinese medicine will be able to handle them, and for that they will need a special permission.
The State Council presents the announcement as a measure to protect wildlife and strengthen control of trafficking in these animals and their derivatives: "The country prohibits all actions that include the sale, purchase, use, export and import of rhinos, tigers and their related products, including the whole body, parts thereof or other derivatives, "the decision states.
Except in the "special circumstances provided by law", the text specifies. In addition to research and traditional Chinese medicine – the latter, a sector that grew by 20% last year and entered the equivalent of 130,000 million dollars -, the use of skin and organs of these species in public exhibitions will also be authorized, and the commerce and transportation of products classified as cultural relics.
The measure replaces the ban, which China adopted in 1993, to import or export these products at all. In addition, the World Federation of Societies of Chinese Medicine, the organization that sets the standards of traditional pharmacology in this country, had also removed both the rhinoceros horn and the tiger bones from its list of products approved for use in patients. Although the demand never disappeared.
According to tradition, the rhinoceros horn, whose basic element is keratin – also present in human nails or hair -, crushed into powder, serves to cure all kinds of ills, from headaches to cancer. He has also built a reputation as an aphrodisiac. And the bones of the tiger, always in accordance with tradition, turned into a paste, relieve rheumatic pain or back pain.
"Although it is restricted to antiques and their use in hospitals, this trade (of products of these animals) will increase confusion among consumers and law enforcement over which products are legal and which are not, and will probably expand markets for other tiger and rhino products, "says the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) it's a statement.
According to Margaret Kinnaird, WWF's head of Biodiversity, the legalization of part of the trade "not only runs the risk that legal trade conceals an illegal trade, but this policy will also stimulate a demand that had been in decline since it came into force. the prohibition "of 1993.
The measure comes just a year after China banned ivory trafficking, an initiative that won him many accolades. The former main consumer of this product was thus a giant step, according to the organizations defending nature, to combat the illegal hunting of elephants in Africa and ensure the stability of the populations of these animals. As a result of that prohibition, the value of ivory fell drastically, around two thirds of its price in 2014, when it reached 2,100 dollars per kilo.
This recent precedent has meant that this week's announcement has caused even greater perplexity, if not fury, among environmental NGOs. In a tweet, Greenpeace has described the decision as "a big step in the wrong direction". In London, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an NGO specializing in the trafficking of illegal species, has warned that lifting the veto can amount to a "death sentence" for tigers and rhinos.
Although it is unclear why the Chinese government may have changed its position, EIA points to a possible reason: tiger farms have multiplied in the last decade in this country, which is also experimenting with rhinoceros captive breeding. . The Chinese Government, therefore, needed to regulate trade in that sector.
"The high number of tigers kept or bred in captivity in China suggests that there will be a huge explosion in trade (of this animal), and that can only lead to increased hunting of tigers that live in freedom" in Asia and Africa , says Debbie Banks, responsible for the EIA campaign in defense of this species. The studies of this organization suggest that the Chinese consumer prefers tiger bones bred in freedom to those of farm specimens.
This organization estimates that less than 4,000 tiger specimens survive in freedom around the world, while farms in China and other countries host about 7,000 animals. In the case of rhinos, whose risk of extinction varies according to the specific species, specialized NGOs estimate that there are about 30,000 left around the world.