Previously, China’s Criminal Law punished those who knowingly hunted or consumed endangered animals, but for those who could argue they unknowingly purchased such meat, the rules were less clear. This loophole could also be exploited by sellers of endangered animal parts for medicinal purposes.
From rhino horns to pangolins, China leads the world in consumption of endangered animal parts. This stems from the traditional belief that eating an animal will bestow its attributes on the consumer. This is why animals such as the tiger are so valued and why every piece of its body can fetch a high price on the black market. Tiger blood is said to strengthen willpower, tiger eyes to improve cataracts, malaria and epilepsy; tiger penis is considered an aphrodisiac; and even tiger feces are sold as remedies for hemorrhoids and alcoholism.
Other wildlife products, such as bear bile and the scales of pangolins, are also used to treat ailments. It is a lucrative field, with ivory fetching $1,000 per pound and pangolin $324 per dish.
Modern medicine exists in China but, as the President of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Lixin Huang explains, it is one of two realms, the second being the unregulated “socialized nutrition” that fuels the black market.
This new reading of the law was submitted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body. Offenders now face up to 10 years in prison for engaging in the buying and selling of endangered animals.
“This is very good in its own way,” says Grace Gabriel, the Asia director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “This interpretation is finally making it illegal to knowingly consume endangered species and their products.”