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Confirmed: China’s revised wildlife law looks to be a grave missed opportunity for threatened wildlife

LONDON: Despite intense international scrutiny since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, the Chinese Government’s revision of its key legislation on conservation and trade in wild animals looks likely to be a major disappointment and failure of nerve.

The Government announced in February it would be revising its Wildlife Protection Law, legislation which has long been controversial for allowing the commercial breeding and trade of even protected wild animal species.

Given unprecedented public and political attention on the biodiversity and health impacts of wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, hopes were high that the revision would finally see the closure of domestic markets for products such as pangolin scales, leopard bones, tiger skins and bear bile.

Just a few weeks ago, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) shared its concerns that, based on State media reports in China, the law revision looked set to be yet another missed opportunity to reduce demand for threatened wildlife.

But now that EIA Wildlife campaigners have seen and translated the draft law, it is apparent that, despite several positive amendments, nothing has changed when it comes to the State-supported exploitation of threatened species for traditional medicine.

This means domestic trade in pangolin scales, leopard bones, elephant skin and bear bile for use in traditional medicine, as well as rugs made from the skins of captive-bred tigers, remains legal.

Aron White, EIA Wildlife Campaigner & China Specialist, said: “The continued failure to prohibit commercial exploitation of even the most highly protected species is not only outrageous given the global biodiversity crisis, it is hugely frustrating in the context of genuinely positive changes on other issues in the draft law. The draft also fails to heed calls from many Chinese academics, NGOs, medical experts and others in the country to end exploitation of threatened wild animals in traditional medicine.

“This revision is a perfectly timed opportunity for the Chinese Government to demonstrate leadership as it prepares to host the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Lawmakers could have chosen to tackle demand for species threatened by trade but instead we’re looking at yet another missed opportunity – something that many species simply cannot afford.”

Ceres Kam, EIA Wildlife Campaigner and qualified medical doctor, noted that inconsistency in the revised law – which bans consumption of wild animals as food but allows their exploitation for medicine – risks undermining a primary aim of the process, namely, to reduce public health risks.

“There are definitely improvements, but a number of serious issues remain unaddressed. It is very disappointing that the draft explicitly lists medicinal use as a need for utilising wildlife, as we see elephants, tigers, pangolins and rhinos dying for this trade,” she said.

“Public health is not going to benefit from this use – quite the contrary. Commercial sourcing of wildlife parts, whether for consumption as food, medicine or other purposes, brings humans into close contact with wild animals, increasing the risk of new zoonotic diseases. A loss of biodiversity further compromises the resilience of wildlife and humans against infections.”

Lawmakers in China still have a narrow opportunity to take heed of such concerns, with the draft being open for public comment until 19 November. EIA has prepared a detailed analysis of the draft with specific recommendations.



  • Aron White, EIA Wildlife Campaigner & China Specialist, via aronwhite[at]
  • Paul Newman, EIA Press & Communications Officer, via press[at]



  1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. 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 tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.


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