Chinese Government Document Signals Decision to Open Tiger Trade is Quietly Going Ahead


Last year we raised the alarm about a new Chinese government policy which repealed a 25-year ban on the use of tiger bone and rhino horn in traditional medicine.

In the face of widespread domestic and international outcry, government representatives said in November of 2018 that implementation of the policy was being delayed and that the ban remained in place.

However, a document issued in March 2019 by the government of Shaanxi Province appears to implement the new policy and makes no reference to the November 2018 claims that a full ban is still in effect. Instead, the document states that permits to buy or sell tiger and rhino products can be applied for in “special circumstances.”

Tiger bone wine for sale in China. Image credit EIAimage.

We have already seen this loophole being used to permit large-scale commercial trade in leopard bone, and this document appears to open the door for trade in tiger and rhino parts for use in traditional medicine.

An article published by state-run press agency Xinhua reports on the Shaanxi document and reproduces the statement that permits can be applied for to trade in tiger and rhino products in “special circumstances.”

Aron White, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Wildlife Campaigner, said: “This document is emblematic of the mixed messages we are getting from China with regards to tiger trade. At the same time as announcing a nationwide crackdown on illegal tiger trade, the government repealed a 25-year ban on use of tiger bone in medicine. Government spokespersons then suggested this policy was being delayed, yet the notification allowing medicinal use of tiger bone is still posted on government websites as valid policy.

“This is contributing to an ongoing ambiguity around the legality of tiger trade, in which demand for tiger parts and products is continuing to thrive.

“An announcement of a total ban on the trade in any big cat parts and products, from any source – including captive-bred – is urgently needed to properly tackle this demand and the transnational organised crime it funds.”

EIA translation of the document issued by the People’s Government of Shaanxi Province:

Shaanxi Province People’s Government notification relating to practical strengthening of supervision and management of trade and utilization of rhino and tiger and the products thereof

The People’s Governments of each district and city, each work department of the Provincial People’s Government and all subordinate agencies:

Rhinos and tigers are rare and endangered wild animals and strengthening the supervision and management of trade and utilization of rhinos, tigers and the products thereof has great significance for the protection of biodiversity and the advancement of establishing ecological civilization. The following notification is issued in order to conscientiously implement the requirements of “State Council notification relating to strict management and control of trade and utilization of rhino and tiger and the products thereof” (notification 36, 2018), to earnestly protect rare and endangered wildlife resources such as rhinos and tigers and to integrate these practices within the province.

  • Strictly manage the trade and utilisation of rhino and tiger and the products thereof. Conscientiously implementing the “Wildlife Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China” and the “Implementing Regulations of Shaanxi Province for the Wildlife Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China,” prohibit all sale, purchase, utilization, import or export of rhinos, tigers and the products thereof (including whole bodies, parts and their derivatives), except in special circumstances clearly defined by laws and regulations.
  • Earnestly strengthen supervision and management of rhino and tiger and the products thereof in special circumstances. Where rhino and tiger and the products thereof are sold, purchased, utilized, imported or exported due to special circumstances, administrative permits must be applied for in accordance with the law and the applicant shall apply directly to the State Forestry and Grasslands Administration.
  • Severely crack down on illegal trade of rhino, tiger and the products thereof. Departments of public security, market inspection and wildlife protection at all levels in the entire province should strengthen joint law enforcement and inspection; include illegal sale, purchase, utilization, import and export of rhino, tiger and the products thereof in their law enforcement priorities; increase the intensity of inspection of marketplaces and online trade platforms such as restaurants, traditional Chinese medicines, antiques markets and distribution centers for wildlife used in medicine; and investigate and deal with crimes such as illegal purchase and sale of rhinos, tigers and the products thereof, and illegal processing, trade and utilization of products such as rhino horn, tiger bone and tiger skins.
  • Strengthen management of links such as transportation, carrying and mailing. Departments of transportation, railways, civil aviation and postal services at all levels within the province shall strengthen inspections of goods, letters and parcels at transportation hubs such as highways, railway stations and airports. Customs shall strengthen inspection of goods, articles and mail entering or leaving the country and shall strictly inspect certificates and materials held by those who are legally selling, purchasing, utilizing, importing or exporting rhino, tiger and the products thereof, such as administrative permits, import and export certificates and special markings [for trade in protected wildlife products]. When illegal activity is detected, they shall immediately inform departments of public security to investigate and handle the case in accordance with the law and seized items shall be transferred to departments of wildlife protection in a timely manner.
  • Appropriate handling of rhino and tiger products in stockpiles or personal collections. Stocks of rhino, tiger and the products thereof of legal origin shall be rigorously sealed and managed to prevent loss. Rhino, tiger and the products thereof of legal origin in personal collections shall be registered in accordance with regulations, and once these have been recorded and affixed with a special marking they can be gifted or bestowed, but sale, purchase or any other commercial activity is not allowed. If the agency storing the items must change the storage location or volunteers to destroy their stored rhino or tiger products, they shall inform the provincial department of wildlife protection in advance and this shall be carried out under on-site inspection and records such as images and documents shall be kept for inspection.
  • Increase the intensity of publicity and education. All relevant departments in all locations shall attach great importance to publicity and public education on protection of rare and endangered wildlife; strengthen communication with news media, protection organisations and civil organisations; and vigorously promote relevant laws, regulations and policies to lead the public in consciously rejecting activities such as illegal sale, purchase and inbound or outbound transport, carrying or posting of rhino, tiger and the products thereof.

People’s Government of Shaanxi Province, 18 March 2019

Featured image: a captive tiger in a Chinese facility. Image credit EIAimage.

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We investigate and campaign against environmental crime and abuse. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil. We work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by addressing the threats posed by plastic pollution, bycatch and commercial exploitation of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Finally, we reduce the impact of climate change by campaigning to eliminate powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases, exposing related illicit trade and improving energy efficiency in the cooling sector. We use our findings in hard-hitting reports to campaign for new legislation, improved governance and more effective enforcement. Click to see author's profile.

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