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Imagine walking into your local supermarket and seeing liquor made from tiger bones and deer antlers, frozen crocodile meat, powdered bear bile, ‘medicine’ made from musk deer, tins of spotted deer meat and giant salamander – all protected species, all priced and sitting on the shelves beside your daily necessities.
China’s Wildlife Protection Law is undergoing its first major revision in 26 years since it came into force. The draft, currently under public consultation, states for the first time that wildlife can be used in the manufacture of Chinese traditional medicine, healthcare products and food for profit. If this draft becomes law then these scenes could become a reality.
Is this what an ‘ecologically civilised’ society looks like?
The revision of the Wildlife Protection Law is part of a broader overhaul of China’s environmental laws, which have been brought into line with the concept of ‘Ecological Civilisation’ (a Government term recognising the need for a greener approach). But some of the content in a proposed draft of the new law runs contrary to these efforts.
The overarching guidelines for ‘achieving Ecological Civilisation’ issued by the State Council and the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee calls for the protection of rare and wild fauna and flora. They require existing laws to “guide, standardise and limit the exploitation, use and protection of natural resources”.
Finally, the guidelines undertake to “promote a faster public shift to thrifty, green and low-carbon, civilised and healthy choices in clothing, food, homes, transportation and travel; and firmly oppose all types of luxury and excessive consumption”.
The eating of rare and endangered wildlife is reported to be a criminal act by legal interpretations. It is also questionable whether the use of endangered wildlife in medicine and healthcare products can be considered as “civilised and healthy”.
In its current draft, the new law (the only one in China to specify the protection of wildlife in its title) allows provincial authorities to approve the hunting of wildlife under special state protection for “captive breeding and other special purposes”. The draft also approves the trade and use of wild species for “public display (performance)”.
The wildlife under special state protection is classified as species which are rare, endangered and/or important for maintaining ecological balance. The draft does not specify the aim or nature of captive breeding for “public display”. Hence approval could be given to commercial breeding programmes or circuses that buy, sell and use nationally protected wildlife.
Captive breeding is a rapidly growing industry that often undermines conservation efforts. In February 2015, a Public Security Bureau head in Shenzhen held a banquet at which a giant salamander was served. The salamander in question had been farmed by an industry that is putting the future of this critically endangered species at risk. A recent study showed that the Chinese giant salamander has lost 80 per cent of its wild population, partly because of illegal poaching to supplement farmed populations, which often do not breed successfully.
It is a similar story for other heavily bred species in China, such as tigers, bears and spotted deer, various reptile species and tortoises.
Furthermore, wildlife products are often considered expensive luxury items, used as bribes when building ‘connections’. A trade in such products is therefore entirely out of line with the spirit of China’s national crackdown on corruption.
The shop shelf described in the introduction is not a figment of imagination. Most of the products described are already permitted for trade under certain administrative regulations, although remain in a legal grey zone.
Open source information shows that since 2003, Government authorities have made over a dozen announcements of companies and products granted ‘China wildlife utilisation management special marking’. The special mark permits trade in all sorts of rare and endangered wildlife products, such as ivory – although China recently promised to halt this as the country responds to growing international criticism.
For example, an announcement made in 2007 included almost 100 products from more than 80 firms, including “medicine containing saiga antelope antlers, pangolin scales, parts of rare snakes, musical instruments, leather goods, clothing, healthcare products, cosmetics made from rare snakes, tiger and leopard skins and skin products, stuffed wild animals, frozen and dried Siamese crocodile meat and liquors made from spotted deer velvets and blood.”
One lawyer with an interest in animal protection law said that the misuse of wildlife stems from legal loopholes. For example, the State Forestry Administration (an implementation authority) uses vague language in the existing law, which allows serious breaches to continue under the protection of its own departmental regulations.
The new revision retains some of that opaque language, such as “other special purposes”. It also intends to bring the above mentioned marking system into law and, for the first time, to create a list of protected wildlife to be bred for trade.
In 2013, during a consultation on regulations for the breeding of wildlife under special state protection, there was widespread opposition to the commercial exploitation of rare species. The regulations were shelved but similar rules are now appearing in the draft of the Wildlife Protection Law – a backwards step.
Take the tiger, for example, one of China’s most endangered species. Only 50 are left in the wild in China but more than 5,000 are kept in captivity. These tigers are mostly bred for profit and have no conservation value.
Although a UN convention called for the phasing out of commercial tiger breeding, the authorities in China turned a blind eye to the proliferation of tiger farms across the country and allowed the trade in captive-bred tigers – liquor products made by two of the biggest tiger farms were given permission by the State Forestry Administration for trade.
The trade has got out of control as recent headlines suggest. In 2014, tiger meat was served at a banquet in Leizhou and last year a tiger corpse was found in the street in Wenzhou. Tigers have been mistreated and abused in zoos across the country, while circus tigers have mysteriously showed up in private possession. These are all tigers farmed for profit.
.A recent report said that the past four decades have seen populations of terrestrial vertebrates in China drop by half, resulting in a huge loss in biodiversity.
The revision of the Wildlife Protection Law offers the chance to reverse this loss – and the first step would be to halt the commercial breeding of rare and endangered species and remove all clauses allowing their commercial use.
《中共中央 国务院关于加快推进生态文明建设的意见》明 确要求“切实保护珍稀濒危野生动植物”， 并且通过修改有关法律法规来“引导、规范和约束各类开发、利用、保护自然资源的行为”，并且“推动全民在衣、食、住、行、游等方面加快向勤俭节约、绿色低 碳、文明健康的方式转变，坚决抵制和反对各种形式的奢侈浪费、不合理消费”。
以2007年的一份公告为 例，公告的产品包括“含赛加羚羊角、穿山甲片、稀有蛇类成份的中成药；稀有蛇类原材料生产的乐器、皮具、皮件、保健食品、洗涤、化妆用品；虎皮、豹皮及其 制品；野生动物标本；暹罗鳄鲜（冻）鳄肉制品、肉干系列制品、鳄鱼膏、保健酒；梅花鹿茸酒、鹿茸血酒、鹿血酒、鹿茸胶囊”等80多家企业百来种珍稀野生动 物制品。
以我国最濒危野生动物之一的老虎为例，目前国内仅存不到50头野生虎，却有超过5000头人工繁育老虎。按照国际标准，这些老虎多数不是以“保护野生虎种 群”的目的所繁育。尽管联合国条约出于对野生虎的保护，要求关闭商业性质的老虎繁育场所。主管部门却对多数 “以虎养虎”的商业行为睁一只眼闭一只眼——中国两家最大的老虎养殖场所生产的保健酒，均被授予了“标识”可合法销售。老虎养殖业规模的快速扩大和政策上 的松动，使得老虎的利用和贸易暗涛汹涌：国内近年有关老虎的奇闻怪事——雷州老板吃虎案、温州街头虎尸案、动物园虐虎事件以及非法流通多地来自马戏团的老 虎等，这些都来自老虎人工繁育场所。
最近一份报告称， 在过去四十年中，中国的陆生脊椎动物种群数量下降了一半，生物多样性丧失的情况非常严峻。目前正在修改中的《野生动物保护法》，仍然有机会成为挽救中国生 物多样性的重要工具。其中关键一步，就是要暂停和关闭对国家重点保护动物的商业繁育，并且删除所有对国家重点保护动物经营利用的条款。