Leaders of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong SAR announce support for a ban on pangolin scales used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and a ban on rhino horn farming in China, amongst initiatives to be submitted to China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing in March 2019. (Photo credit: DAB)

In a significant boost for Africa’s last remaining pangolins and rhinos, leaders of Hong Kong SAR’s largest political party have announced plans to push for bans on the use of pangolin scales in China, as well as the captive breeding of rhinos in the country.

Last Friday, five lawmakers from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong SAR (DAB) announced at the party’s annual Chinese New Year press conference that they would submit a bill suggestion to ban the domestic sale of pangolin scales in China for discussion in Beijing next month, when officials convene for annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

The lawmakers, including China NPC Standing Committee member Tam Yiu-chung, also announced that they would submit a bill suggestion to ban the “trade and use of farmed or wild rhinos and their products” and “severely crack down on the illegal trade of rhinoceros and its products” by promoting the concept of ‘Ecological Civilization.’”

Ecological civilization has been written into China’s constitution to guide the country’s environmental policies, laws, and education. China’s President Xi Jinping declared to the NPC in October 2017, “We, as human beings, must respect nature, follow its ways, and protect it” and that his administration will “encourage simple, moderate, green, and low-carbon ways of life, and oppose extravagance and excessive consumption.”

Pangolin scales are still widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and are legally prescribed in some hospitals in China. This includes prepared medicines, ointments, and plasters manufactured by medical industrial and pharmaceutical enterprises. However, legal stocks of pangolin scales in China are dwindling and the captive rearing of pangolins has proven to be unfeasible. This has resulted in a sharp upsurge in poaching and trafficking of pangolin scales from Africa to China to feed Chinese demand for the TCM products, which is pushing all eight pangolin species towards extinction–an unavoidable trajectory unless the illegal and legal trade can be brought under control.

Today, Bloomberg Environment reported that of two dozen traditional Chinese medicine companies contacted, only one—Guangdong Zhuhai Xingxing Pharmaceutical Co.—said it was still producing medicine from pangolin scales.

“‘We use it, but I don’t know the source,’ said a representative reached at the company’s hotline number,” according to the report.

WildAid’s research has shown there to be about 200 pharmaceutical companies in China that manufacture some 70 patented pangolin drugs. Based on the government’s admission that it was allocating an average of 26.5 tonnes of pangolin scales from its stockpile annually to the medical industry, roughly 57,000 pangolins would be saved each year if China banned drugs containing pangolin scales. There has been no current data released on the amount of pangolin scales held in the government stockpile since CITES prohibited all international trade in 2016.

Hong Kong SAR lawmaker Elizabeth Quat, a leading proponent of the proposed bans on sales of pangolin scales and rhino horn farming, has been actively lobbying Hong Kong SAR delegates to end these trade practices in China. “Just like the elephant ivory ban of 2017, these bans are an important message that show the Chinese government is very keen on protecting animals and the Sino-African relationship,” Quat said earlier this month.

Led by DAB chairperson Starry Lee, the group of lawmakers recommended that China also increase public awareness and support for efforts to persuade the public not to buy or sell pangolin scales or rhino horn. The DAB forms the backbone of the 36-strong bloc of delegates from Hong Kong, a historical hub for the illegal wildlife trade.

Translated text of the pangolin ban and rhino horn farming recommendations summary drafted by Hong Kong SAR lawmaker Elizabeth Quat:

  1. Proposal to accelerate the transformation and upgrading the pangolin medicine industry

Increase investment in the research and development of pangolin substitutes, producing drugs with the same function of animal products by adopting high technology. Stop using pangolins in medicine with policy in place. Strengthen the monitoring in sourcing of endangered wildlife raw materials as well as entire production procedure. Increase the popularization of science, guiding consumers to choose high-quality synthetic products with same functions, in order to promote pangolin conservation.

  1. Comprehensive ban on trade and use of rhinoceros and its products

Trade and use of farmed or wild rhinos and their products should be completely banned, and all smuggling activities covered by legal loopholes should be prohibited. Severely crack down on the illegal trade of rhinoceros and its products, improve the law enforcement ability of cross-sectoral crackdown on illegal trade of rhino horn, and actively coordinate and participate in international joint enforcement action to enhance the work in gathering intelligence. Strengthen education and promotion in rhinoceros conservation, promote the concept of Ecological Civilization, guiding consumers to consciously resist the illegal purchase and transportation, carriage and delivery of rhinoceros and their products from abroad.

Speaking alongside DAB Chairperson Starry Lee at the Friday press conference in Hong Kong SAR were China NPC Standing Committee member Tam Yiu-chung, China NPC member Chan Yung, DAB vice-chairman Pang Cheung-wai and DAB party spokesman Ip Kwok-him.

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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. 

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