The decision by Beijing to ease the tiger bones and rhino horns ban prompted outcry from global conservation groups.

China is defending its decision to reverse aspects of a decades-old ban on the trade of tiger bones and rhino horns after conservationists labelled it a “huge setback” to efforts aimed at protecting the endangered animals’ future in the wild.

The State Council of the People’s Republic of China announced on the 29th on it’s english website that it will control the trade and use of rhinoceros, tigers and their related products in China. It pointed out that parts obtained from “farmed rhinos and tigers” would be authorised for scientific, medical and cultural use. In all other circumstances, the buying and selling of rhino and tiger parts will remain illegal.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang maintained Beijing’s position, saying the reversal of the ban was in line with the “reasonable needs of reality”.

China has also improved its “law enforcement mechanism” and plans to step up efforts to crack down on illegal wildlife trade. Illegally obtained products will be confiscated, and products in individual collections are not to be traded again.

The Medicine Claim

“Rhino horns and tiger bones used in medical research or in healing can only be obtained from farmed rhinos and tigers, not including those raised in zoos. Powdered forms of rhino horn and bones from dead tigers can only be used in qualified hospitals by qualified doctors recognized by the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

tiger chinese medicine
Tiger bone wine is believed to cure a variety of serious diseases. It does nothing of the sort. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Rhino horns and tiger bones are valued by some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, enhance sexual function, etc.
In fact, these have no medical or scientific basis, and the Chinese people’s obsession with tiger bones is mainly influenced by the image of the mighty and powerful tigers. The idea of ​​”taking a part of it’s power” by consuming it.

Studies have shown that there is barely any difference between tiger and dog bones. It may even be unhealthy to consume, indeed large carnivores often accumulate heavy metals in their bodies, so long-term consumption of tiger bones carries the risk of chronic poisoning of arsenic and mercury.

As for a Rhino horn, it is composed primarily of a protein called keratin, the same substance that makes up human hair and nails. If you are thinking of buying a horn we recommend that you simply eat your nails, at least they will grow back and cost you much less.

The World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies released a statement in 2010 urging members not to use tiger bone or any other parts from endangered species.


More Tigers in Farms than in the Wild

At Earthivist we believe that the decision for the reversal of the 1993 ban is due to the lobby of Tiger and Rhino farms.

There are fewer than 4,000 tigers living in the wild worldwide, few of them in China.
Though numbers have increased from 2010 – up from about 3,200 to nearly 3,900 – the figure represents a dramatic population decrease from a century ago, when an estimated 100,000 tigers roamed free.

Meanwhile, China is home to about 200 tiger farms holding up to 6,000 captive tigers. China has also been importing rhinoceros for breeding.

harbin tiger
A pack of tigers eye a live chicken that a tourist purchased for 60 RMB (10 USD) being ferried out to open ground at the Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China. (Qilai Shen)

Those farms were since 1993, breeding under the pretence of eventually reintroducing tigers into the wild. As it was illegal for to sell any parts of tiger they were, in theory not generating any revenue. Of course, it is an open secret that there has been a lucrative black market of tiger bones.

Now, the market is getting legal again and those that have stockpiled bones are set to make a fortune. A 55lb pile of bones from a single tiger has been worth up to $250,000 once transformed into tiger bone wine.

A win for poachers, smugglers and… South African businesses?

Unless DNA testing is performed on products there is no way to know if it came from a farm or from the wild. Considering the costs associated with breeding tigers compared to the cost of poaching and smuggling one, it will undoubtedly be the perfect opportunity for organised crime syndicates to launder their catch.

1,028 rhinos were illegally killed in 2017 in South Africa alone. A few years back, the price for rhino horn peaked at around $65,000 per kilogram. That makes it more valuable than gold and many times more valuable than elephant ivory.

While there are a seeming handful of rhinos left in the wild, South Africa and other African governments have encouraged the private farming of animals like the rhino and tiger. Those country are expected to try to influence CITES to allow the international trade of farmed rhino horns and tiger bones.


John Hume rhino farmer in South Africa
John Hume rhino farmer in South Africa

Hume recently told National Geographic in 2016 that his farm is home to around 1,160 of the giant animals, which means he owns more rhinos than any other farmer in the world. With so many animals, horn harvesting happens year round. Hume has been carefully stockpiling them for years. He had then around four tons of rhino horns in storage without causing the death of a single rhino.

He is using the argument that by supplying the legal market it reduces the demand for poaching of wild animals. However history has proved the opposite, by allowing a legal trade, it allows poaching to operate in the shadow much more easily. Thus driving the number of wild animal being poached up.

Elephant Ivory is still banned

On January 19th 2018 China banned all ivory processing and sales businesses.As such, officially China has ended business activities of all its 34 processing and 143 sales enterprises.

The Chinese government had suspended imports of ivory and all ivory products since 2015 in an attempt to save elephants from Extinction.

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