China’s top legislature has announced stronger measures on trade in wild animal species in order to reduce the risk of unregulated wildlife trade to human health. This includes an immediate and unprecedented ban on the consumption of terrestrial wild animals as food, including animals from the wild and from captive breeding facilities. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) welcomes this step and would like to see it extended to cover all trade in protected species including for medicinal consumption and display.

This move comes in the wake of the devastation of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak and with support from many Chinese citizens, most of whom do not consumer wildlife illegally. China has been applauded for its measures to prevent the spread of the novel virus – thought to have originated from zoonotic transmission in Wuhan’s seafood market – including the introduction of a temporary ban on all wildlife trade on 26th January.

This new decision announced on Monday 24th February, will make the ban on consumption of all wild animals for food permanent. The decision further stipulates that “where there is a need” to use wildlife for “special purposes” such as “scientific research, medicine or display”, this will be subject to “strict supervision and approval, quarantine and inspection”. Whilst the introduction of stricter controls is to be welcomed, there are concerns that this will permit continued trade in illegally-sourced species and their parts used in medicinal products, such as pangolin scales, and from protected species in private breeding facilities in China such as tigers.

Extend the ban

Dr Rebecca Drury, Head of Wildlife Trade at FFI, said: “FFI highly commends China’s swift decision to strengthen its legislation. We would like to see this extended to all products from protected species, and to be strongly enforced in the interests of both public health and the conservation of species threatened by illegal trade”.

In recent years, the Chinese government has taken positive steps to address wildlife trafficking, which has been crucially important in helping to protect species such as tigers, elephants and rhinos in the wild. China is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and is due to host the 2020 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity later this year.

The action taken by China is an encouraging step forward in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. FFI has long called for governments globally to take stronger action to prevent illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade – a worldwide clampdown on the trafficking, marketing and consumption of illegal wildlife products is urgently needed.