China’s Wildlife Protection Law

A permit and a tiger skin rug in Xiafeng taxidermy with, inset, permit details (c) EIA

A permit and a tiger skin rug in Xiafeng taxidermy with, inset, permit details (c) EIA


What is China’s Wildlife Protection Law (amended July 2, 2016)?

China’s Wildlife Protection Law (WPL), officially titled as the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Wildlife, is China’s primary piece of legislation that relates to the protection of wildlife. It was enacted in 1989 and espoused a strong ethos of “breeding, domestication and utilization” of wildlife, including endangered species that were listed has having the highest levels of protection.

In 2016, following almost three years of review, revisions and consultations, the WPL has been amended. This revision is said to be the first major overhaul in over two decades. The revised WPL can be read here (in Chinese) and here (EIA’s English translation). Read EIA’s summary of concerns relating to the final revised law here.


Why is it relevant?

As a major consumer of illegally traded wildlife and with an increasingly global footprint, China’s laws and policies have a huge impact on the world’s biodiversity. The process to revise the WPL presented an opportunity for China to show conservation leadership by enshrining a more pre-cautionary approach in the law; to phase out policies that allowed practices such as tiger farming and domestic trade in captive tiger parts, ivory and many other products made of endangered species.

Unfortunately, the revision has been a missed opportunity. Though some progress was made in the opening Chapter that sets out the general provisions of the law, such as no longer explicitly promoting “utilization of wildlife resources”, detailed provisions in the third Chapter set out the legal basis for allowing commercial breeding, utilisation and trade in endangered species, which includes tigers. Indeed, EIA has documented how China has already been experimenting with a licensed domestic trade in captive bred tiger skins under administrative regulations. Our investigations have shown how the licensing system is wide open to abuse. Instead of taking action to reverse the threat posed by tiger farming to wild tigers, it is now enshrined in law.

EIA is extremely concerned that the revised law will further entrench the culture of commodification of tigers, elephants, rhinos, pangolins and other endangered species. These species are threatened globally by poaching fueled by international illegal trade, masterminded by transnational organised criminal groups. Legal domestic trade in parts and derivatives of these species stimulates demand rather than reducing it. You can read more about EIA’s response to the WPL revisions and the risk it presents to tigers in particular here. EIA will continue to consult with like-minded organizations, lawyers and academics over what options are still available to ensure that tigers are excluded from future commercial breeding and trade provisions.

Despite its proven flaws, the regulatory system that manages the domestic ivory trade is also included in the new WPL, which conflicts with the commitments made by President Xi Jinping and President Obama during their recent high-level bilateral; both vowed to “take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory”.


'Bone strengthening' tiger wine for sale in Qinhuangdao, China (c) EIA

‘Bone strengthening’ tiger wine for sale in Qinhuangdao, China (c) EIA


What was the revision process like?

A number of Chinese laws relating to ecosystems and the environment have recently been under the scrutiny of the National People’s Congress (NPC) to ensure they are compatible with the promotion of “ecological civilisation”. The NPC started preparation for revision of the Wildlife Protection Law in 2013 and conducted extensive research and consultation.

The first version of a revised WPL was circulated for public consultation in January 2016. There was a furious backlash from Chinese academics, lawyers, biologists and NGOs as they worried that the proposed revisions, if adopted, would take China’s Wildlife Protection law and regulations in the wrong direction.

In April 2016, a second version of a revised WPL was proposed, making a few concessions to some of the concerns voiced earlier, but did not go far enough. Even senior members of China’s law-making body expressed concern that the second version continued to promote utilisation over conservation, and there was a second round of public consultation.

Two months later, the third version of a revised WPL revision was presented at an NPC Standing Committee meeting. Unlike the previous two versions, which were circulated for public comment, the third version was deliberated on by NPC members only. On July 2, this third and final version of the WPL was passed.


Into the detail – EIA’s position paper

If you would like to learn more about the details, EIA has translated the three revisions and dropped them in alongside the current law. Read it here.

For the second revision, EIA has outlined key concerns (read it here) and produced detailed suggestions to improve relevant provisions (read it here).

For the first revision, EIA submitted comments to the formal process and has integrated them into this position paper, including the rationale behind our position, which you can read here.

You can read more of EIA’s first reaction to the first revisions here.


Implementation regulations

In October 2016, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) – the main Government department responsible for protecting wildlife and thus enforcing the Wildlife Protection Law – published a set of draft regulations. These documents provide more detail as to how the SFA intends to put the revised law into practice.

EIA has major concerns about these regulations, which emphasise utilisation of wildlife over its conservation to an even greater degree than the law they are supposed to implement. Of particular concern is the regulation detailing the SFA’s ‘special marking’ scheme, which further enshrines a legal commercial trade in protected species, and the regulation on disposal of seized items, which potentially allows for the auction of seized items derived from protected wildlife such as tigers.

EIA submitted concerns to the SFA during its public consultation process in November 2016. Read EIA’s detailed comments on the regulations here.

EIA has also translated four of the implementation regulations in full:

Administration regulations for the shelter and rescue of terrestrial wildlife (consultation draft)

Evaluation standards and methods for valuation of terrestrial wildlife and wildlife products (consultation draft)

Implementation regulations for the administration of the special marking system for terrestrial wildlife under special state protection and the products thereof (consultation draft)

Implementation regulations for the management and disposal of seized terrestrial wildlife and wildlife products (consultation draft)


Comments & criticisms

EIA has translated a number of articles in the Chinese media and elsewhere responding to the proposed changes in the Wildlife protect Law. Each translation includes a link to the original Chinese language article.

State Forestry Administration: With the up-listing of pangolins onto CITES Appendix I in effect, eating could mean a criminal sentence – The Paper

New Wildlife Protection Law is passed – discussion of use of tiger bone in medicine – Caixin

Draft animal protection law worries activists – Global Times

Can the bones of dead tigers be utilised? – NPC SC members debate, People’s Daily

With four mentions of ‘utilisation’ at the start, the revised draft of the Wildlife Protection Law has attracted controversy – The Paper

Revision of the Wildlife Protection Law: it’s time to say goodbye to commercial utilisation of wildlife – The Paper

Wildlife exhibitions and performances should not be sanctioned by the law – Beijing Youth Daily

Protection or utilisation? Experts call for the draft Wildlife Protection Law to prioritise protection of wildlife – Nanfang Metropolitan News

Protection or utilisation? Revision of the Wildlife Protection Law called into question – China Science News

Where is the new draft Wildlife Protection Law heading? – Phoenix News Comment

Dubbed the ‘Wildlife Exploitation and Utilisation Law’: the pain of overhauling the Wildlife Protection Law – China Times

Revision of the Wildlife Protection Law: we should not see wildlife as a resource – The Paper,

Wildlife conservation is crucial for national ecological security. Utilisation of wildlife cannot be expanded at will – China Environment News

Shenyang experts and volunteers come together to discuss wildlife – Shenyang Evening News

What conservationists expect from a Wildlife Protection Law – Renmin Zhengxie