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China Re-Opens Trade of Rhino and Tiger Parts for Medicine. They Have No Medical Value, Argue Experts

The Chinese government announced on Oct. 29 that it would modify its total ban on the trade of rhinoceros and tiger parts, allowing rhino horns and tiger bones from animals raised on farms in China to be used on a limited basis by accredited doctors in Chinese hospitals. An outright ban on trading has been in effect since 1993.

The use of these animal parts, often ground into a powder, have a long history in traditional Chinese medicine, along with genitalia from bulls, deer, and snakes and elephant tusks. But, say Chinese medicine experts, there is no proven or unique medical benefit to these and similar ingredients from other animals, many of which come from endangered creatures.

Advocates for the elimination of trade in parts from tigers, rhinos, elephants, and other endangered animals say that because it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between farmed and wild animals, it effectively creates a market for poaching.

Fewer than 32,000 rhinos across all species and about 3,900 tigers remain in the wild. Chinese farms have over 6,500 tigers and an unknown number of rhinos. One ranch in South Africa raises rhinos, and has at least 1,500 with a growing population. That ranch removes horns in a careful manner which leaves the rhino unharmed, and the horn regrows.

“Not only could this lead to the risk of legal trade providing cover to illegal trade, this policy will also stimulate demand that had otherwise declined since the ban was put in place,” said Margaret Kinnaird of the World Wildlife Fund in a statement.

Tanya Sanerib, international legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement, “China’s rhino and tiger decision is a huge step backwards for these animals, which are already on the brink of extinction. In the midst of poaching crises, China should be working to stem demand, not condoning rhino horn and tiger bones in unproven medical treatments.”