A digitised version of an article that appeared in the New York Times on 6 June 1993, read that China has published a ban on the trade of rhinoceros horns and tiger bones, coveted substances that have been essential to an enormously lucrative business in traditional Chinese medicines. With the announcement of this ban, the state said that it was illegal to sell, purchase, import, export or even carry tiger bones and rhinoceros horns in China and ordered that they no longer be used in medicines.

Skip ahead 25 years, a circular released by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China has announced changes to this ban to allow trade in special circumstances.

The circular states that the State Council will control the trade and use of rhinoceroses, tigers and their related products in China. The most important part of the circular to take note of is:

“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 recognised by the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

This dictates the special circumstances under which the ban is lifted. “Except in special circumstances prescribed by law, the country bans all actions involving sales, purchase, use and import or export of rhinoceroses, tigers and their related products, including the whole body, parts of it or any derived products. Sales of products with ingredients containing rhinos, tigers and their related products will be classified as illegal. Under the special circumstances, regulation on the sales and use of these products will be strengthened, and any related actions will be authorised, and the trade volume will be strictly controlled.”

Although a lot of doubt exists whether this will be practically possible, the circular states that the exceptions will be strictly regulated. “Rhinos, tigers and their related products used in scientific research, including collecting genetic resource materials, will be reported to and approved by authorities. Specimens of skin and other tissues and organs of rhinos and tigers can only be used for public exhibitions. This announcement was greeted with criticism from many sources as conservationists fear that it will create opportunity for an increase in demand and illegal trade of these animal parts.

The World Wildlife Fund labelled the announcement as a major setback for wildlife conservation as a decade-old ban that has been instrumental in preventing the extinction of endangered tigers and rhinos. “China’s decision to reopen a legalised trade in farmed tiger bone and rhino horn reverses 25 years of conservation progress in reducing the demand for these products in traditional Chinese medicine and improving the effectiveness of law enforcement,” said Leigh Henry, director of wildlife policy, WWF-US.

WWF called on China to not only maintain their 1993 ban on tiger bone and rhino horn trade, but to also extend it to cover trade in all tiger parts and products, regardless of whether they’re from captive-bred or wild animals. – Press release