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In a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), 24 Chinese pharmaceutical companies are exposed as listing leopard bones as an ingredient in their traditional medicines.
Use of leopard bone in traditional medicine is still legal in China, despite there being fewer than 450 wild leopards left in the country. International trade has been banned since 1975 – raising serious questions as to where the leopard bone in trade came from.
Illegal killing for their body parts is driving Asia’s leopards to extinction. They have already disappeared from Laos, Vietnam and Singapore and are on the brink in several other countries. Demand for their bones, primarily from Chinese consumers, is one of the drivers of the trade. Leopard bone is used in similar ways to tiger bone, steeped in rice wine to produce health tonics and used in other traditional medicines.
Purchase of leopard bone by manufacturers appears to be continuing, despite a regulation that companies could only use stock they held prior to March 2006. The quantities and origins of this leopard bone has never been publicly declared and the full scale of China’s domestic leopard bone trade and the total number of companies involved remains largely unknown because of a lack of Government transparency.
EIA trawled through scores of traditional Chinese medicine websites and found that labelling or packaging of 62 different pills, plasters and tonics recorded the use of leopard bone.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Aron White, EIA Wildlife Campaigner and China Specialist. “It is not just leopards. At least 46 Government permits to trade in or use parts of species under the highest levels of protection have been issued to traditional medicine companies since September 2017.”
Many academics, NGOs and members of the public in China have been calling for greater restrictions on wildlife trade, including for bans to be extended to cover use in traditional medicine. Chinese lawmakers now have a timely opportunity to listen to these advocates and end the use of leopards and other threatened species in traditional Chinese medicine. China’s National People’s Congress – the country’s highest law-making body – is due to revise the Wildlife Protection Law, possibly as soon as April.
“We are urging the Government to amend national legislation to end the use of leopard and other threatened species in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM),” said White. “The world is facing a biodiversity crisis and this is a critical opportunity for China’s leadership to act and address the role of consumer demand that is contributing to it.”
EIA recognises that most TCM does not contain wildlife parts and a nuanced approach is required. By ending the use of threatened wildlife, the Chinese Government and industry would conversely prevent the actions of a minority negatively impacting on the image of the whole TCM industry.
“Amending the law to end the use of threatened wildlife in medicine would be a win-win for biodiversity and the image of traditional Chinese medicine,” says White. “China has an opportunity to become a genuine leader in conservation, and we hope other countries would follow its example.”
“这只是冰山一角。” EIA野生动物项目的Aron White说。 “不仅仅是豹子。自2017年9月以来，有关部门向中医药公司颁发了至少46张允许收购、出售、利用国家一级重点保护野生动物的许可证。”