China legalizes Rhino horn and Tiger bone
In China, rhino horn and tiger bone may now be legally used in medical research or traditional medicine following a controversial announcement by the government this morning. The animal specimens may be obtained only from farms, according to the announcement, but conservationists say this surprising move may open the floodgates for a surge in illegal activity and threaten vulnerable animal populations.
"Under the special circumstances, regulation on the sales and use of these products will be strengthened, and any related actions will be authorized, and the trade volume will be strictly controlled," the statement said.
Tiger bone and rhino horn are used in traditional Chinese medicine, despite a lack of evidence of their effectiveness in treating illness and the effect on wild populations. Chinese demand for ivory is also blamed as a driver behind the slaughter of African elephants, despite Beijing banning all trade in ivory starting from this year. No reason was given for the lifting of the ban, which was implemented in 1993 amid a global push to protect fast-disappearing endangered species.
The statement also said nothing about regulating the farming of tigers and rhinos, but added that the central government "urged governments at all levels to improve publicity activities for protecting rhinos and tigers to help the public actively boycott any illegal purchases."
An estimated 3,890 tigers remain alive in the wild, according to a report presented during the Third Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in 2016. Thousands of tigers are also believed to have been bred on Chinese farms where conditions for the animals are often criticized as dire.
Studies put the population of wild rhinos at less than 30,000, while poaching is reducing that number drastically each year.
"With this announcement, the Chinese government has signed a death warrant for imperiled rhinos and tigers in the wild who already face myriad threats to their survival," Iris Ho, the group's senior specialist for wildlife program and policy, was quoted as saying in a statement.