Even though illegal and unethical, many remedies used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) still contain animal parts. This fact has long concerned critics. Not only is there no evidence that these ingredients have any positive health effects, they also endanger the survival of endangered species. In the past, China has paid lip service to conservation and evidence. However, even these half-hearted pronouncements seem to be a thing of the past.
China’s State Council is now replacing its 1993 ban on the trade of tiger bones and rhino horn. Horns of rhinos or bones of tigers that were bred in captivity can hence force be used “for medical research or clinical treatment of critical illnesses” under the new rules. The fact that no critical illness responds to either of these remedies seems to matter little. Grave concern has therefore been voiced by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) over China’s announcement.
“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. “Trade in tiger bone and rhino horn was banned in 1993. The resumption of a legal market for these products is an enormous setback to efforts to protect tigers and rhinos in the wild. China’s experience with the domestic ivory trade has clearly shown the difficulties of trying to control parallel legal and illegal markets for ivory. Not only could this lead to the risk of legal trade providing cover to illegal trade, this policy will also stimulate demand that had otherwise declined since the ban was put in place.”
Both tiger bone and rhino horn were removed from the TCM pharmacopeia in 1993, and 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. Even if restricted to antiques and use in hospitals, the WWF argue, 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. “With wild tiger and rhino populations at such low levels and facing numerous threats, legalized trade in their parts is simply too great a gamble for China to take. This decision seems to contradict the leadership China has shown recently in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, including the closure of their domestic ivory market, a game changer for elephants warmly welcomed by the global community,” Kinnaird added.
WWF calls on China to set a clear plan and timeline to close existing captive tiger breeding facilities used for commercial purposes. Such tiger farms pose a high risk to wild tiger conservation by complicating enforcement and increasing demand in tiger products.
China’s announcement comes at the precise moment when we learnt from the 2018 edition of the Living Planet Report that, between 1970 and 2014, there was 60% decline, on average, among 16,700 wildlife populations around the world. The Living Planet report, issued every two years to track global biodiversity, is based on the Living Planet Index, put out every two years since 1998 in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and based on international databases of wildlife populations. The two previous reports, in 2014 and 2016, found wildlife population declines of 50% and 58%, respectively, since 1970.