By Jeremy Hance
It's well known that much of the world's massive illegal wildlife trade ends up in China, including poached tigers, pangolins, and bears. But now those who order pangolin fetuses, tiger blood, or bear bile at a restaurant or market may see significant jail time. According to a reinterpretation of Chinese law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), consumers of some 420 rare or endangered species in China could be sentenced to over ten years depending on the offense.
"Buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting," said Lang Sheng, Deputy Head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee.
Trading in rare or endangered species as already illegal in China, but the new interpretation of the law adds consuming, or eating, such species as "trading," making consumers directly liable. Still, the new legal interpretation allows consumers to eat animals that were captive bred, raising questions about how well the law can be enforced. China is home to a number of so-called tiger farms and bear bile centers where captive breeding animals for consumption is the norm.
Despite this loophole, conservationists have generally praised the move, seeing as one of several new efforts by the Chinese government to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and other environmental problems.
"President Xi’s administration has stated its intent to increase environmental protection," said WildAid Executive Director Peter Knights. "Last year they banned shark fin from all state banquets. In January they publicly crushed seized ivory. State media supported the world's largest demand reduction campaign for wildlife developed in partnership with WildAid and led by Yao Ming and Jackie Chan. This is another forceful step in wildlife protection that will impact animals globally."