Sat, Nov 03, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: A giant leap backward in China

Primatologist Jane Goodall was in Taiwan this week on a speaking tour, and to visit the 20-year-old Jane Goodall Institute of Taiwan and local chapters of her Roots and Shoots youth service program.

Taiwan was the first nation in the Asia-Pacific region to have a branch of the institute, which Goodall founded in 1977 to help protect animals and the environment; it is also one of more than 100 nations to have Roots and Shoots programs.

In talks over the past week, Goodall said that environmental awareness and conservation in Taiwan have changed a lot since she first visited in 1996, mentioning the success of efforts to preserve the Formosan sika deer, pheasant-tailed jacana and black-faced spoonbill.

While Taiwan continues to make strides in saving endangered species, Beijing took a massive step backward on Monday, when the Chinese State Council reversed a 25-year-old ban on the trade of products from tigers and rhinoceroses.

China also has a branch of the Goodall Institute in Beijing, and Roots and Shoots programs in several cities, so it must have been as appalling for the Chinese involved in those activities as it was for the rest of the world to hear of the council’s decision.

While the council said that trade in rhino horns, tiger penises and bones, and other items would only be allowed in “special cases,” basically from farmed animals, it ignored the fact that it has been the soaring Chinese demand over the past three decades for elephant ivory, rhino horns, tiger parts and products made from other endangered species that is supporting the poaching and black-market trade propelling these animals toward extinction.

China signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1981 and in 1993 banned the sale, import and export of tiger bones and rhino horns, but despite its regulations and promises, its enforcement appears to have done little to end the trade.

So instead of a ban, China said authorities would “control” the trade, and rhino horns and tiger bones could only be obtained from farmed animals for “scientific or medical research or in healing,” ie, traditional Chinese medicine remedies.

Given the ease with which the 25-year-old ban was flouted, the new rules are unlikely to make it hard for unscrupulous traders to pass off illegal imports as products from farm-raised animals, while also encouraging growth in tiger farms, where animals are bred and raised in conditions so abominable that death must come as a relief.

China’s decision is especially bad news for Nepal, which earlier this year announced that its nine-year push to protect its tigers had succeeded in almost doubling the population from 121 in 2009 to an estimated 235 adults, given that most of the poaching there is to sell tiger parts to the Chinese market.

If the Chinese authorities were truly as concerned with protecting endangered species as they claim, they would be trying to emulate efforts by Taiwan and Japan to eliminate demand from the traditional medicine industry for rhino horns and parts of other endangered animals.

Government-sponsored studies in Taiwan showed that rhino horn is useless as a drug, while the Japanese government helped with efforts to find and promote the use of other ingredients for treatments that used rhino horn.

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