China revises rhino horn and tiger bone ban to allow products to be traded, used in ‘special cases’

China has revised a law on the ban of rhino horn and tiger bone products that would now allow domestic trade and use of the products under ‘special circumstances’.

The new law, announced today by The State Council, stipulates that permission of the selling of antique tiger and rhino products and use of related products in hospitals would be granted under ‘special cases’.

The animal specimens may be obtained only from farms, the notice stated, but environmental groups say this controversial move may cause confusion to consumers and law enforcers, further threatening the populations of these endangered animals. 

China previously banned all use and trade of rhinoceros horn and tiger bone in 1993 and removed the use of the products from the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopeia following a public outcry. 

Ivory tusks, rhino horns and leopard skins seized by Hong Kong customs officials displayed during a press conference in 2013. China has now revised a law on the ban of rhino horn and tiger bone products that would now allow domestic trade of the products in 'special cases

Ivory tusks, rhino horns and leopard skins seized by Hong Kong customs officials displayed during a press conference in 2013. China has now revised a law on the ban of rhino horn and tiger bone products that would now allow domestic trade of the products in 'special cases

Ivory tusks, rhino horns and leopard skins seized by Hong Kong customs officials displayed during a press conference in 2013. China has now revised a law on the ban of rhino horn and tiger bone products that would now allow domestic trade of the products in ‘special cases

Both tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopeia in 1993 following a public outry

Both tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopeia in 1993 following a public outry

Both tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the traditional Chinese medicine pharmacopeia in 1993 following a public outry

‘All activities related to using or trading rhinos, tigers and their products are banned except in special circumstances prescribed by law,’ the notice on the ‘strict control’ of rhinoceros and tiger products stated. 

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.

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 is made from keratin - a protein found in fingernails and hair - and the product is said to help treat everything from cancer to gout when consumed in its powder form

Rhino horn is made from keratin - a protein found in fingernails and hair - and the product is said to help treat everything from cancer to gout when consumed in its powder form

Rhino horn is made from keratin – a protein found in fingernails and hair – and the product is said to help treat everything from cancer to gout when consumed in its powder form

On the other hand, tiger bone that is crushed and made into a paste has been said to be usable to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism and back pain

On the other hand, tiger bone that is crushed and made into a paste has been said to be usable to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism and back pain

On the other hand, tiger bone that is crushed and made into a paste has been said to be usable to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism and back pain

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.

On the other hand, tiger bone that is crushed and made into a paste has been said to be usable to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism and back pain. 

There are no proven medicinal benefits in humans from either product, according to the National Geographic. 

Rhinos and tigers are both endangered in the wild and are placed on CITES Index I – the strongest level of protection.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) heavily criticised the new law in a press release, expressing ‘profound concern’ over the changes.

‘It is deeply concerning that China has reversed its 25 year old tiger bone and rhino horn ban, allowing a trade that will have devastating consequences globally,’ said Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader, adding that the resumption of a legal market for the products is an enormous setback to efforts to protect tigers and rhinos in the wild.

The government's decision to reverse the rhino and tiger bone ban seemed to contradict the leadership the country has shown recently in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of their domestic ivory market

The government's decision to reverse the rhino and tiger bone ban seemed to contradict the leadership the country has shown recently in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of their domestic ivory market

The government’s decision to reverse the rhino and tiger bone ban seemed to contradict the leadership the country has shown recently in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of their domestic ivory market

In 2017, China banned all ivory processing and sales businesses by closing down 34 processing and 143 sales enterprises, a move welcomed by the global community

In 2017, China banned all ivory processing and sales businesses by closing down 34 processing and 143 sales enterprises, a move welcomed by the global community

In 2017, China banned all ivory processing and sales businesses by closing down 34 processing and 143 sales enterprises, a move welcomed by the global community

‘WWF urgently calls on China to maintain the ban on tiger bone and rhino horn trade which has been so critical in conserving these iconic species. This should be expanded to cover trade in all tiger parts and products,’ the statement read.    

While changes in the law mean its use remains restricted to antiques and in hospitals, the WWF say confusion by consumers and law enforcers as to which products are and are not legal will increase – leading to an expanded market for bone products. 

The World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies released a statement in 2010 urging members not to use tiger bone or any other parts from endangered species. 

Calling the move a ‘too great a gamble for China to take’, the WWF said that the government’s decision to reverse the ban seemed to contradict the leadership the country has shown recently in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of their domestic ivory market. 

In 2017, China banned all ivory processing and sales businesses by closing down  34 processing and 143 sales enterprises, a game changer for elephants warmly welcomed by the global community.

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