(Oct. 31, 2018) – In an unexpected policy change, China announced this week that it will allow the use of rhino horns and tiger bones for medical research by certified hospitals, but only from rhinos and tigers raised in captivity, excluding zoo animals.

Analyzing the announcement, WildAid CEO Peter Knights said the consequences for wildlife depend on the strictly regulated ‘trade volume’ and the purposes for which approved uses are allowed.

“If minimal amounts are used for research or traditional medicine from existing stockpiles, then the impact is likely to be minimal,” Knights said. “If it leads to an opening of commercial trade in these products, it could be disastrous for rhinos and tigers. It all depends on the detail and interpretation of the new policy.”

Since the policy announcement does not mention importing or exporting rhino horn or tiger parts, which would be in violation of CITES, Knights surmises Chinese tiger farms could be the ultimate beneficiary. Roughly 150 companies have permission to sell tiger parts from animals that die in captivity while domestic rhino ranching is much less common. However, only time will tell if these new allowances give cover to the illegal wildlife trade.

“If this new policy ends in commercial sales and plays out similarly to when ivory was legalized, poaching will skyrocket as traders look to increased demand and the ability to launder rhino horn,” said Knights. “And while tiger populations have stabilized in recent years, the danger is that this policy change could reinvigorate demand for tiger parts and also lead to an increase in poaching.”

Trade in tiger bone and rhino horn was banned in China in 1993. However, tiger bone from Chinese commercial tiger farms, as well as rhino horn from illegally poached rhinos in South Africa, often end up in tonics and medicines.

The policy change comes as rhino horn prices have fallen by two-thirds and poaching levels are declining in South Africa.  

Rhino horn, which is made of the same protein found in human hair and fingernails, is promoted as a purported cancer cure general health tonic, and hangover cure in Vietnam, while crushed tiger bone has been said to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism and back pain with no scientific evidence to back up claims.

Chinese singer and songwriter Liu Huan urges the public not to use tiger products in a WildAid billboard

Since 2013, WildAid has been running awareness campaigns to reduce demand for rhino horn in China. Dozens of popular and well-respected celebrities such as former NBA star Yao Ming, actor and martial arts icon Jackie Chan, actresses Li Bingbing and Maggie Q, singer Jay Chou, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, Prince William and soccer star David Beckham, have lent their names to the effort in the form of high-impact, culturally sensitive messages, which have alerted several hundred million people to the plight of the rhino.

WildAid is also part of the International Tiger Coalition, which is comprised of 42 environmental, zoological, and animal protection groups. Together, the coalition is calling for a permanent ban on the trade in tiger parts and products.

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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

Journalists on deadline may email communications@wildaid.org