New Delhi: In a move that could decimate India’s rising rhino and tiger population, China has legalised the use of rhino horn and tiger bone in medical research or traditional medicine.
India has the largest population of both species, which had also been entirely wiped out due to poaching that fueled the market for the illegal animal parts in China. In the 1900s, only a few hundred rhinos survived in the wild and by 1972, the tiger population had dipped to a 1,827. Today, there are over 2,200 rhinos (85% of the global population) and tigers (70% of the global population) in the country.
Simply put, in China, rhino horn and tiger bone can now be legally used in either medical research or traditional medicines after the announcement by the Chinese government. Parts from those animals classified as “antiques” could be used in cultural exchanges following approval by cultural authorities, a statement adds.
“The government mandates clearly recording the current inventory of products and those in individual collections. Illegally obtained products will be confiscated, and products in individual collections are not to be traded again,” the statement added.
While reversing its 25-year-old ban, China said that the specimens can only be obtained from farms, conservationists argued that this would spell doom for efforts to preserve wildlife in the wild, especially in India.
In a statement, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said that the move would have “devastating consequences” and be an “enormous setback” to efforts to conserve wild animals. “Even if restricted to antiques and use in hospitals, this trade would increase confusion by consumers and law enforcers as to which products are and are not legal, and would likely expand the markets for other tiger and rhino products,” the WWF said.
In 2015, researchers examined several hundred confiscated shipments from August 2010 to December 2013, including 232 shipments of elephants, 165 of rhinos and 108 of tigers. The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), pinpointed China as the most important country or ‘node’ for illegal rhino and tiger trafficking.
India, with its 4,057 km border with China and age-old maritime smuggling routes, is particularly at threat. “As an immediate neighbour, India will be affected. The continued and well-planned efforts of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, state forest departments and NGOs, the illegal trade in wildlife, especially the tiger trade is coming under control. I fear that this will bounce back, since the demand will increase,” said Jose Louis, Jose Luis, head of Law & Enforcement, Wildlife Trust of India
A senior official of the WCCB said, “The issue at hand is two-fold. One is that this will lead to a spike in demand. The news reports suggest that the Chinese government will be taking strict action against any illegal specimen they found. But by that time, the animals have already been poached. The other is that it’ll embolden poachers here in India.”
The immediate reason for the move, global experts said, was unknown. But the growing number of tiger country could be a factor, they suggested. The Environmental Investigation Agency had found in 2013 that several thousand tigers were kept at hundreds of farms across the country. With captive tigers expensive to feed and house, and their numbers growing – experts said that the pressure had been mounting on the Chinese government to allow regulated trade. China has also reportedly begun importing rhinos for potential farming.