For the last 25 years China has imposed a ban in the domestic trade of rhino horn and tiger bones. This means that any rhino or tiger product sold or prescribed by a medical official is done so illegally. On 29th October 2018 China’s General Office of the State Council issued a notice that is to allow a controlled trade and use in rhinoceros and tiger parts.
The notice goes on to state that “Except in special circumstances prescribed by law, the country bans all actions involving sales, purchase, use and import or export of rhinoceros, tigers and their related products”
But importantly the report also states “Under the special circumstances, regulation on the sales and use of these products will be strengthened... Rhino horns and tiger bones used in medical research or in healing can only be obtained from farmed rhinos and tigers, not including those raised in zoos... Rhino horn and bones from dead tigers can only be used in qualified hospitals by qualified doctors recognized by the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.”
It is important to note that the State Council’s notice clearly stipulates that only horn from farmed rhinoceros within China can be used by the qualified and recognised individuals. It points out that zoo animals cannot be used under the new law, meaning that not all captive bred rhinos can be used to supply the new, legal demand.
But this does not mean it is good news for rhinos (or tigers)! China claims that by making this change in the law they will be able to better control the use of wildlife parts in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and consequenty reduce the demand for illegally harvested body parts of rhino and tiger.
History tells us that even a carefully controlled legal market will not reduce demand for wild animal parts. We have consistantly seen a price premium for TCM that uses wild animals. Legalising even a potentially small market legitimises the use of rhino horn far more than has been the case for the last 25 years.
Without doubt, any legal trade opens up the possibility of laundering illegally poached rhino horn into the legal stockpiles. This new law has the strong potential to increase the level of poaching of wild rhinos in Africa and Asia at a time when official poaching statistics are showing a decrease in the level of rhinos poached.
Contrary to common understanding, China is already home to a number of southern white rhinos. According to the CITES Trade Database South Africa have recorded a total of 291 live rhinos exported to China between 2000 and 2016.
LIVE RHINOS EXPORTED FROM SOUTH AFRICA TO CHINA - 2000 to 2016
Breeding in captivity or artificial propagation: 111
Hunting Trophy: 36
Soure: CITES Trade Database
It should be noted that these numbers differ significantly to the total number (217) quoted by China as having been imported. It also does not explain how a quota for ‘hunting trophy (36)’ is included in the live rhino exported numbers.
But discrepancies aside for now, it demonstrates that China already has a significant population of white rhino within their borders.
Having recently been praised internationally for their moves to make illegal any domestic trade in ivory, this announcement came a shock to many, not only in the conservation world, but within the Traditional Chinese Medicine industry too.
In a recent statement, the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture UK (ATCM) stated that all of itsTCM practioner members (over 700) do not use animal parts in their practices.
ATCM has written to Chinese Government to express their concerns over this new policy, as they also believe that the ease of ban on medical use of farmed rhino horn and tiger bone will potentially put wild animals at risk.
The reality is that the Chinese Government is unlikely to reverse its decision in the immediate future. The Notice issued by the State Council does not explain how officials will identify illegal from legal rhino horn in order to deal with those responsible for importing any illegally procured products.
Helping Rhinos CEO Simon Jones commented “This certainly feels like a huge step backwards for rhinos, tigers, and all those people working tirelessly to protect these iconic species. Recognising that China is unlikely to reverse its decision, it is important that International organisations collaborate on a plan to ensure the tightest measures are in place within the Chinese authorities to identify and prosecute anyone responsible for importing illegal rhino horn or tiger bone. We must also continue to come together to identify new and to enhance our existing initiatives to protect rhino in their natural habitat."
Helping Rhinos will maintain a collaborate with organisations around the world to bring an end to the current rhino poaching crisis. Despite this announcement from China we belive that the innovative approach of our projects in the field will ensure we create a future for rhinos in their natural habitat.