Defenders of Wildlife and more than 25 nonprofit organizations from India, Vietnam, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and Germany this week published an open letter to lawmakers in China urging them to act to reduce demand for wild animal species threatened with extinction. This follows a February 2020 announcement from China’s National People’s Congress that the Wildlife Protection Law – the country’s most important piece of legislation covering conservation and trade of wild animals – was to be revised.
Alejandra Goyenechea, senior international counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“It is critical that we adopt adequate regulations to protect both human and wildlife health. Countries need to take immediate measures to prevent future pandemics and save endangered species. Our world cannot wait for another crisis to jump into action. We must make progress now.”
• This open letter makes the case that by maintaining legal domestic markets for endangered species, Chinese government policy is acting contrary to the urgent need to reduce demand and is instead legitimizing consumption of these and other threatened species.
• Participating NGOs note that legal markets – including wildlife products sourced from captive-bred specimens – frequently exacerbate threats to wild populations by legitimizing and perpetuating demand for products, while often being subject to abuse which enables laundering of illegally sourced wild animal products.
• This letter follows a widespread discussion dating from February of the risks posed to human health and biodiversity by commercial trade in wild animals, which was triggered by the emergence of COVID-19 and a suggestive link to wildlife trade. Shortly thereafter, China’s lawmakers banned commercial breeding and trade of most terrestrial wild animals for consumption as food.
• The new law consolidates the ban on trade for food consumption, also creating new enforcement mechanisms and increased penalties for wildlife crimes. However, the draft law would still allow commercial trade in wild animals and their body parts for non-food purposes such as traditional medicine and ornamental items – even if the species is protected and endangered.
• Species whose body parts are currently traded legally in China include pangolins, leopards, tiger, bears and elephants, all of which are seriously threatened by poaching and illegal trafficking and for which China represents a major source of demand.
• Moreover, the environmental groups are concerned that by permitting trade and consumption of wild animals for traditional medicine and other purposes, the draft law could undermine commendable policy changes aimed at reducing disease risk from wildlife trade, such as the new ban on trade for food consumption.
• Strong action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, which threatens global life support systems and increases the risk of future pandemics, is urgently needed from all governments around the world, including action to end illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.
• With China hosting a major intergovernmental summit in 2021, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD CoP15), the letter notes it is crucial that the country demonstrate leadership in these efforts.