Safeguards needed as China lifts ban on rhino and tiger parts

  • The decision by Beijing to allow horn and bone to be put to scientific and medical use has been fiercely criticised by wildlife groups
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2018, 5:14am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2018, 8:31am

By virtue of its size, population, biodiversity and rapid development, China looms large on the global conservation agenda. But campaigners take defeats to heart.

Beijing has just handed them one, after decades of steady progress, in an effort to balance the interests of conservation with those of science and Chinese medicine.

The government is allowing scientific and medical uses of tiger bone and rhinoceros horn after banning them and their trade for 25 years.

Watch: China reverses 25-year ban on use of rhino and tiger products

Activists are deeply dismayed, despite promised safeguards against exploitation. They claim that with wild tiger and rhino populations at low levels and facing numerous threats, it will have devastating global consequences.

Margaret Kinnaird, an official for WWF, the global conservation body, believes there will be confusion among consumers and law enforcers as to which products are legal, and an expansion in the market for other tiger and rhino items, which should also be banned.

The national policy of promoting the role of traditional Chinese medicine was always likely to clash with conservation policies undertaken after China joined the convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

However, Kinnaird observed, rightly, that the decision seemed at odds with China’s leadership in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of the domestic ivory market, seen as a game changer for threatened African elephants.

Wildlife decimated, WWF says, and China ends tiger, rhino ban. What next?

Some activists are bound to liken the risks inherent in exceptions for medical and scientific uses to Japan’s citing of research to legitimise the slaughter of whales.

The safeguards, such as the certification of prescribing doctors and the need of approval for specific scientific research projects, must     be applied rigorously and transparently if the relaxation of the ban is not to destroy the credibility of conservation efforts – and threaten supplies of tiger bone and rhino horn.

Even if the authorities are not convinced by WWF concerns, they should at least be mindful of its latest Living Planet Report, which estimated that humanity has wiped out 60 per cent of global wildlife populations since 1970.

And that does not take into account the risk of severe heatwaves and destruction of coral reef ecosystems by global warming.