Wildlife & Biodiversity

COVID-19: Experts raise concerns over China's measures to prevent illegal wildlife trade

China asks public for comments on a list of animals that can be traded legally

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Saturday 18 April 2020

China recently started a process to classify a step to rein in animals and birds from illegal trading in wildlife.

The most populous country in the world has drawn criticism from several quarters over its handling of wet animal markets after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, on April 8, 2020, circulated a list of animals that could be traded legally, seeking comments from the public.

The public can send in their comments to the ministry until May 8.

The list — titled ‘National Catalogue of Livestock and Poultry Genetic Resources’ — was created based on the decisions taken during a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

It was drafted for “eliminating the bad habit of excessive eating of wildlife and effectively safeguarding the lives and health of the public”, said a notification from the ministry.

Down to Earth has a copy of the notification.

The 16th meeting of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress decided to strictly prevent the hunting, trade, transport and eating of wildlife prohibited by the Wildlife Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China on February 24.

It was decided in the meeting that the animals added to the catalogue of livestock and poultry genetic resources would be exempt.

Such animals would be regulated under China’s animal husbandry law.

The new catalogue included traditional livestock like pigs, cattle, sheep and goats, horses, donkeys, camels, rabbits and poultry.

It also included a category of special livestock of local, cultivated or introduced breeds.

The sika deer, red deer, reindeer, alpacas, guineafowls, ring-necked pheasants, partridges, mallard ducks, ostriches, rheas and emus were classified as special livestock.

Animals harvested for their fur — including minks, silver foxes, Arctic foxes and raccoon dogs — were also categorised as special livestock, with the caveat that they were not for consumption.

Experts, however, criticised China’s measures and said the measures were only broad strokes.

The government was silent on aquatic species, with the decisions only applying to terrestrial species, said Aron White, a wildlife campaigner and a specialist on China for United Kingdom-based non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency.

While some species were categorised as special livestock, the exemptions were technically only for captive-bred populations, he said.

“Hunting and sale of wild populations of these species would not be allowed, but that depends on effective enforcement,” White added.

The decisions also exempted the use of wildlife for purposes of scientific research, medicine or display, according to him.

“Legal trade in species like leopards, pangolins and lions will continue,” he said, adding that legal trade can also act as an enabler for illegal wildlife trade.

Chinese traders narrated incidents where they were involved in the legal trade of tiger skin, but traded other tiger parts illegally, White pointed out.

China's wildlife law was geared to promote the utlisation of wildlife, including protected species, said Avinash Basker, a legal consultant with Delhi-based non-profit Wildlife Protection Society of India.

“Prohibitions in the past were subject to broad exemptions, including applying to only certain derivatives and allowing trade in others,” said Basker.

“Whether the changes being discussed in the wake of the pandemic are a real shift in approach or not, remains to be seen,” he added.

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