China Announces ‘Legal Trade’ in Rhino and Tiger Products

Stephen Wiggins Article 3 Comments

Banner image – Courtesy of WWF Singapore – Janissa Ng

Petition – “China Just Lifted the Ban on Rhino and Tiger Products,” Care2 Petitions

China’s announcement (29 October 2018) has set in motion potentially even more parallel markets for legal and illegal sources to supply Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – with China reportedly legalising the use of tiger bone and rhino horn from ‘captive bred animals’ by hospitals (despite no proven efficacy in the TCM ‘potions’ so created) and reinstating a domestic trade in ‘antique’ tiger and rhino products – where will the proof of compliance come from, or will it just be conveniently overlooked in the stampede to profit?

China banned trade in tiger bone and rhino horn in 1993 – despite this ban, China has continued to illicitly farm thousands of tigers in appalling conditions for commercial purposes:

Parties with intensive operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale shall implement measures to restrict the captive population to a level supportive only to conserving wild tigers; tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives” – CITES Decision 14.69 

However, China now seeks to reinstate ‘legal’ markets for tiger and rhino derivative products – a retrograde step just when pressure to shut down China’s domestic ivory markets (TRAFFIC, September 2018) is making tentative headway (but with China’s demand seemingly offshored via Vietnam and Laos).

Debbie Banks, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Tiger Campaign Leader, said: “At a single stroke, China has shattered its reputation as a growing leader in conservation following its domestic ban on the sale of ivory at the start of the year.”

“It is instead revealed as a sham, its [China’s] international image in tatters and its credibility destroyed – and all for the sake of deeply questionable business sectors which serve only to drive consumer demand for the parts and products of endangered species.”

“History will not judge the Government of China kindly or with respect for such a reactionary, ill-judged and damaging decision.”

There have been reports of live rhino specimens being imported into China under the pretence of zoo exhibits and using loop-holes in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) facilitation of live specimens transfers via complicit African nations (such as lions from captive breeding facilities in South Africa):

Lion farming may increase in consumer countries, and some South African farmers appear willing to export live lions to these countries which would help establish/increase farming. As live lions are not explicitly detailed in the CITES listing-annotation it is not clear how this will be addressed, although the South African CITES Scientific Authority is treating permit applications for live lions with caution in case they are acting as a proxy for skeleton exports” – SC70, Doc. 54.1, page 12, para 4Note: There is no quota on the live export of lions from South Africa, so the South African Scientific Authority’s reported “caution” could evaporate if commercial incentives take priority.

There is no reason not to suspect China will increasingly farm lions, leopards, rhino, pangolin etc. in country to feed China’s despicable consumptive needs, plus funding and exploiting wildlife farming practices in Africa, which seem only too willing to find ways to circumvent any notion of international over-sight to cash-in on China’s dubious appetites.

China’s blatant disregard for international norms needs to be met with a coherent response and rebuke on the international stage – condemning China’s promotion of TCM (legitimising potions that use wildlife parts and derivatives, but are of no proven efficacy whatsoever), thus stimulating demand and threatening a devastating spike in the poaching of endangered species to profit – not to mention a potential explosion in abhorrent, cruel and intensive wildlife farming practices.

The announcement on Monday threatened to undermine President Xi Jinping’s efforts to promote an image of China as a responsible environmental steward capable of tackling global issues like climate change and air pollution” – China Reverses Ban on Rhino and Tiger Parts in Medicine, Worrying Activists, ” New York Times, 29 October 2018

Further Reading

Hunting the traffickers: How we’ve failed to stop the international tiger trade,” The Independent, 26 February 2020:

2019-2020: Tigers: Hunting the Traffickers,” BBC iPlayer – available 4 March – 2 April 2020


Campaigners welcome China U-turn over rhino and tiger products,” The Guardian, 12 November 2018

Official statement on the reversal of the ban on trade in rhino and tiger parts by China,” UN Environment, 7 November 0218

Experts fear impact of China lifting trade ban on tiger and rhino parts,” The Guardian, 3 November 2018

China’s Got the Wrong Medicine,” Adam Minter, Bloomberg Opinion, 1 November 2018

Business Insider | Trending Rhino horns are back on the menu in China — and some South African government officials may be cheering,” Business Insider South Africa, 31 October 2018

Reality Check: China’s Rhino Horn and Tiger Product Policy is No Surprise,” Dr Pieter Kat, Annamiticus, 31 October 2018

BIG CONGRATULATIONS – CHINA CAN HELP SAVE RHINOS,” John Hume (Rhino Breeder), 30 October 2018

China reverses 25-year ban on using rhinoceros horns and tiger bones in medicine,” The Independent, 30 October 2018

China defends move to ease tiger bones, rhino horns 25-year ban,” Aljazeera, 30 October 2018

Selling rhino horn: It’s time to ask hard questions about the Department of Environmental Affairs,” Don Pinnock, Daily Maverick, 29 October 2018

China legalizes rhino horn and tiger bone for medical purposes,” National Geographic, 29 October 2018

WWF statement on China’s legalization of domestic trade in tiger bone and rhino horn,” World Wildlife Fund, 29 October 2018

China’s ‘legal trade’ announcement could sound the death knell for tigers and rhinos,” Environmental Investigation Agency, 29 October 2019

China Reverses Ban on Rhino and Tiger Parts in Medicine, Worrying Activists,” New York Times, 29 October 2018

Increased Threat to Wildlife from Traditional Chinese Medicine,” IWB, 3 October 2018

Millions of donkeys ‘beaten to death with hammers’ to make traditional Chinese medicine,” The Independent, 23 November 2017

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