China, trafficking of rhino horns, shady?

“The Chinese government has long been dedicated to the cause of wildlife protection and has made achievements recognized by the world,” Xinhua quoted Ding, a top official in China’s State Council, as saying. China, Ding added, “has not changed its stance on wildlife protection and will not ease the crackdown on illegal trafficking and trade of rhinos, tigers and their byproducts.”

The State Council unveiled a directive in late October ending a 25-year ban on trade for rhino and tiger parts — as long as they were sourced from farmed animals and used for traditional Chinese medicine.

China had made a clear position on trading rhino and tiger parts, people have applauded China’s position. China was also praised last year for banning the elephant ivory trade altogether. However, there had been statements and sources stating that China will lift the 25-year-old trade ban

“as long as they were sourced from farmed animals and used for traditional Chinese medicine”

A speculation for such a move is driven by its domestic politics, it could be a move to encourage the Chinese traditional medicine market. Or possibly it could be China’s tiger farms finding a market, where raised approximately around 6000 tigers in capacity. To understand why China needs to make this change, we have to understand the demand in Asia. According to a report published by Katherine Lawson and Alex Vines,

“much of the available literature on consumer demand for ivory and rhino horn products notes that this has been driven by a rising middle class in Asia with larger disposable incomes, although further explanation is lacking. One publication states that since 2004 there has been a 50 per cent increase in ivory items for sale in Guangzhou, an important ivory centre in China. There is a need for more empirical data to assess the rise in demand, and probably also for a wider literature review incorporating Chinese and Asian publications.”

Now there have been attempts to tackle the issue, including recommendations from CITES. At the sixty-second meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, held from 23 to 27 July 2012, China was called upon to submit a review of its internal trade data and measures taken to comply with CITES Resolution Conf. There have also been plans to recover the dramatic loss in tiger population, at the International Forum on Tiger Conservation in St Petersburg, Russia in November 2010, leaders of the 13 tiger range countries launched the Global Tiger Recovery Plan, vowing to double the number of wild tigers in Asia by 2022. Part of the Global Tiger Initiative,  members remained ‘cautiously optimistic’ on the future of wild tigers in Asia. However, tiger populations have fallen by over 95 per cent since 1900, and there are now possibly as few as 3,200 remaining in the wild. Threats to tigers include habitat loss, poaching and illegal trade, mostly for use in traditional East Asian medicine. An operation from INTERPOL stated that

“launch of Operation Prey in 2012 to protect tigers and target individual and organized crime groups behind the tiger trade. Working across the 13 TRCs, Operation Prey led to nearly 40 arrests and multiple seizures.d Operation Prey was conducted under Project Predator, an initiative to support and enhance the governance and law-enforcement capacity for the conservation of wild tigers.”

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