New York Times

Image

A market for traditional medicine ingredients in Guangzhou, China. While doctors generally prefer herbal remedies, there is a small but lucrative trade in rhino and tiger parts.

Credit

Credit

Fred Dufour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Javier C. Hernández

Nov. 12, 2018

BEIJING — The Chinese government, bowing to pressure from environmental groups, said on Monday that it would temporarily reinstate a ban on the use of rhinoceros horns and tiger bones in medicine.

Making a rare concession, the State Council, China’s cabinet, said that it had decided to postpone an order made last month to undo a 25-year ban on the trade.

“The Chinese government 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,” Ding Xuedong, a top official with the council, said in remarks published in the state-run news media on Monday.

Environmentalists celebrated the change, though some warned that it might be temporary.

“Keeping these products banned is the only way we stand a chance of protecting the future survival of these incredible animals that are already in decline,” said Gilbert M. Sape, a campaigner with World Animal Protection, an advocacy group based in London.

Chinese officials did not specify on Monday when they might revisit the order. Mr. Sape urged the government to drop the policy altogether.

The order last month undermined China’s efforts to portray itself as an environmental leader and it drew a fierce backlash from animal rights advocates, who described it as a significant setback for the protection of the fewer than 30,000 rhinos and 3,900 tigers still in the wild.

On Monday, wildlife advocates said Chinese officials had helped to ease some of their concerns.

“This move helps maintain the leadership role China has taken in tackling the illegal wildlife trade and reducing market demand,” said Margaret Kinnaird of the World Wildlife Fund in Washington.

As it seeks more respect on the global stage, the Chinese government has tried in recent years to cultivate an image as an environmentally responsible nation. China announced it would ban the sale of ivory in 2016, and officials have recently led crackdowns on the sale of a variety of endangered animals, including the pangolin.

Wildlife advocates speculated that the government’s decision to end the ban on rhino and tiger parts in medicine had aimed to help China’s growing traditional-medicine industry. At the time, the government said it would allow the use of the animal parts in “medical research or in healing,” but only by certified hospitals and doctors, and only from rhinos and tigers raised in captivity, excluding zoo animals.

Editors’ Picks

The Ugly Beauty of Cindy Sherman’s Instagram Selfies

Solange, the Polymathic Cultural Force

Where Brexit Hurts: The Nurses and Doctors Leaving London

While rhino and tiger parts are rarely used in Chinese medicine these days — most doctors prefer herbal remedies — they are the subject of a small but lucrative trade.

Environmentalists led a vigorous campaign over the past few weeks to persuade Chinese officials to change course. In late October, shortly after the decision to allow the use of rhino and tiger parts in medicine was announced, nine foreign nongovernmental organizations met with the State Forestry and Grassland Administration to make their case against the measure.

Sign up for The Interpreter

Subscribe for original insights, commentary and discussions on the major news stories of the week, from columnists Max Fisher and Amanda Taub.

SIGN UP

Follow Javier C. Hernández on Twitter: @HernandezJavier.

Albee Zhang contributed research.