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Beijing eases ban on trading of tiger and rhino parts


Customs officers stand next to part of a shipment of 33 rhino horns seized by the Customs and Excise Department, at a news conference in Hong Kong on Nov. 15, 2011.

Photo: Reuters

China yesterday defended its controversial decision to ease a 25-year ban on trading tiger bones and rhinoceros horns after conservationists warned that the government had effectively signed a “death warrant” for the endangered species.

The Chinese State Council on Monday unexpectedly announced that it would allow the sale of rhino and tiger products under “special circumstances.”

Those include scientific research, sales of cultural relics and “medical research or in healing.”

Previous regulations on rhino horn and tiger bone products did not consider the “reasonable needs of reality,” such as those from scientific research, education and medical treatment, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang (陸慷) said at a press briefing.

China has also improved its “law enforcement mechanism” and plans to step up efforts to crack down on illegal wildlife trade, Lu added.

Beijing prohibited the trade of rhino horn and tiger bones in 1993, but a black market has flourished, with many products entering the country through Vietnam, according to an investigation conducted last year by the Elephant Action League conservation group.

Wildlife campaigners fear that the new rules could fuel the illegal trade and further put the animals at risk of being poached.

“With this announcement, the Chinese government has signed a death warrant for imperilled rhinos and tigers in the wild who already face myriad threats to their survival,” Iris Ho (何燕青), senior wildlife program specialist at Humane Society International, said in a statement.

However, the State Council said the trade volume would be “strictly controlled”, with any sale outside of authorized use to remain banned.

The newly sanctioned areas of trade would also be highly regulated. Only doctors at hospitals recognized by the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine would be allowed to use powdered forms of rhino horn and tiger bones.

Tourism and cultural heritage authorities would also have to approve any rhino and tiger products that are used for “temporary cultural exchange.”

Despite a lack of scientific evidence, demand for rhino horn and tiger bone is partly driven by their supposed health benefits, from curing cancer to boosting virility.

For rhino horn and tiger bone used for medical research or treatment, the council said only farmed rhinos and tigers can be used, excluding those raised in zoos.

However, activists were not reassured by the regulations.

Farmed wildlife are “born into a miserable life of suffering and then killed for use in medicinal products. It’s a total outrage,” said Kate Nustedt, a program director at non-profit World Animal Protection.

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