China’s Wildlife Protection Law

We will continue to call for an end to tiger farming and to all trade in tiger parts and products in China. You can help. Write to your elected representative, and ask them to urge your Prime Minister or President to call upon President Xi to phase out tiger farms and end all trade in tiger parts and products, from both wild and captive sources.

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) EIAimage


China is the original ‘tiger farming’ country. The first ‘tiger farm’ was established in North-east China in 1986, 13 years after international commercial trade in tigers and tiger parts was banned. This was a Government-funded operation to breed tigers for profit, primarily to supply bones for use in traditional medicine.

In the face of international pressure, China banned domestic trade in tiger bone in 1993 via an order from the State Council, the highest body in government. However, China continued to allow domestic trade in tiger skins, and the number of tigers kept captivity across the country – from large-scale, commercial ‘farms’ to small ‘zoos’ and informal backyard operations – has ballooned to around 5,000-6,000 tigers. The ‘tiger farming’ model has also been exported to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

As the primary market for tiger and other many other endangered wildlife products, China’s laws and policies have a huge impact on the world’s biodiversity. Fewer than 4,000 wild tigers survive worldwide today, and poaching of wild tigers for trade shows no signs of abating. Given this precarious situation, it is crucial that all range states and consumer countries have robust legislation to outlaw all trade in tiger parts and products and impose deterrent sentences on those engaging in tiger trade. A legal trade in tiger parts and products maintains and stimulates demand, complicates law enforcement and undermines efforts to reduce demand for tiger products.

China’s legal trade in tiger skins was documented by us in 2013 (read our report Hidden in Plain Sight). Just like the permit system previously used for legal trade in ivory – which was banned in China in 2017 – this system is seriously flawed and gives traders opportunities to ‘launder’ illegally-acquired tiger parts. We also uncovered industrial level production of tiger bone wine, which traders claimed was sanctioned by a ‘secret’ government document.

We have been campaigning for many years for amendments to Chinese laws and regulations to prohibit all trade in tiger parts and products. A major overhaul of China’s wildlife protection legislation in 2016 was a missed opportunity to conclusively end the tiger trade. President Xi Jinping has shown conservation leadership by banning China’s ivory trade. But he has yet to do the same to save the tiger.

China’s current Wildlife Protection Law leaves the door wide open for legal, commercial trade in captive-bred tiger parts and products. Action is urgently needed from China’s leadership to declare zero tolerance for all trade in tiger parts and products, from any source.

Key concerns regarding China’s Wildlife Protection Law (WPL)

Commercial trade and utilisation of endangered species is permitted and formalised

The Wildlife Protection Law formalises a permitting system under which protected wildlife may be traded commercially and consumed. Trading permits (referred to as a ‘special marking’) may be issued for products made from captive-bred specimens of protected species, if that species is included on separate ‘utilisation lists’. The first versions of these lists were published in 2017, and while tigers, bears and pangolins were not included, additional species may be added at any time. These ‘special markings’ may be issued for medicinal or food products, which means that if tigers are included on a subsequent version of the list, this could open up legal trade in tiger meat and tonic wines made using tiger bone.

Commercial captive breeding of endangered species is permitted

The WPL enshrines a captive breeding permit system that allows commercial breeding of protected wildlife, including tigers. This system has underpinned the explosion of tiger ‘farms’ in China, which represent a major threat to the survival of wild tigers.

Captive-bred populations of protected species may be subject to different protection measures

The WPL states that captive populations of endangered species included on ‘utilisation lists’ are subject to different protection measures. This could seriously undermine enforcement and present opportunities for the laundering of wild-caught specimens. In addition, supporting regulations on the valuation of wildlife state that the official value of captive-bred specimens is half that of their wild counterparts. In China, the severity of a crime involving illegal trade (and therefore the corresponding sentence) is often determined using the value of the seized product. This provision could potentially lead to more lenient sentencing for crimes involving captive-bred tigers and other big cats, and so indicates that the Chinese Government has not recognised the severity of trade in captive-bred tigers and its impact on wild tigers.

Trade in protected species is permitted for the purposes of ‘performance’

The permit systems enshrined in the law allow the sale and use of protected species for “public exhibition or performance”. Wildlife performances, such as the use of tigers in circuses as frequently documented in China, serve no educational or conservation purpose, and are often linked with both trade in wildlife parts and products and welfare issues and animal abuse.

Possession of illegally-sourced wildlife and wildlife products is not criminalised

The law does not specifically prohibit the possession of illegally-sourced wildlife and wildlife products, which limits opportunities for enforcement to combat illegal wildlife trade.

Regulations allow the auction of seized wildlife items

Regulations around the management and disposal of seized wildlife state that seized wildlife and wildlife products may be auctioned. This could create a way to legalise illegally acquired specimens such as tiger skins for auction, which may encourage illegal activity.

Management of nationally protected wildlife is de-centralised

The WPL assigns most responsibility for its implementation to provincial-level government departments, including responsibility for issuing trading permits and production quotas, but does not establish mechanisms for central planning, supervision or accountability. This is increases the opportunities for a poorly-regulated legal trade in tigers and other species threatened by trade, and impedes China’s ability to report on obligations under CITES.

We have produced an analysis briefing of the current law.

English translations of key legislation

We have prepared an informal translation of China’s Wildlife Protection Law, along with subsidiary regulations and other key documents and announcements relating to wildlife trade.

Wildlife Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China (English translation)

Wildlife Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China (original Chinese)

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

State Forestry Administration Notification No. 47 (Administration regulations for the shelter and rescue of wildlife)

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)

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

Value evaluation methodology for wildlife and wildlife products

SFA announcement No. 14, 2017 regarding the approving body for the captive breeding and selling, purchase and utilisation of whole specimens or the products thereof of 10 terrestrial species or types of wildlife under special state protection

State Forestry Administration announces first batch of species on the “List of Terrestrial Wildlife under Special State Protection for Captive Breeding”

Announcement on first batch of species on “List of Aquatic Wildlife under Special State Protection for Captive Breeding” [pending]

Our campaign for better protection for tigers and other wildlife through the WPL revision process

China’s Wildlife Protection Law was originally enacted in 1989 and espoused a strong ethos of “breeding, domestication and utilisation” of wildlife, including endangered species that were listed has having the highest levels of protection. The Wildlife Protection Law was one of a number of laws relating to ecosystems and the environment to come under the scrutiny of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in recent years, to ensure they were compatible with the Xi Jinping’s 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. We submitted comments as part of this consultation.

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. Once again we submitted a summary of key concerns and detailed suggestions to improve relevant provisions.

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 2 July 2016, this third and final version of the WPL was passed.

If you would like to learn more about the details of this revision process, We prepared a comparison table of the three revisions alongside the previous version of the law.

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 which provided more detail as to how the SFA intended to put the revised law into practice.

We had 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. We submitted our concerns to the SFA during its public consultation process in November 2016.

A series of additional supplementary regulations have since been released, including announcements of the first species to be included on ‘utilisation lists’. The titles of these documents make very clear that these species represent only the “first batch” to be included on the lists. We will be paying close attention to new developments.

As the major consumer country for wild tiger products, China has a responsibility to tackle demand for tiger products. Legal markets for endangered wildlife products sustain and stimulate demand by legitimising the product in the eye of the consumer, and complicate and undermine both enforcement and demand reduction efforts.

It is therefore crucial that Chinese law does not allow commercial trade in tiger parts and products. We must ensure that tigers, bears, pangolins and other species threatened by trade are kept off any lists which would allow commercial trade.