China Lifts Ban on Medical Use of Tiger and Rhino

By Nina Rygh, Asia Reporter

The Chinese government has lifted a 25-year old ban that will allow them to use tiger bone and rhino horns from captive bred individuals in medicine.

The new regulations would allow only certified hospitals and doctors to use rhino horns and tiger bones for "medical research or in healing", from captive facilities within China where tigers and rhinos are bred for commercial purposes, excluding zoo animals.

Rhino horns and tiger bones are valued by some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and prescribed to treat a range of ailments, including fever, gout, rheumatism and back pain.

The parts supposed medicinal benefits have never been scientifically proven.

Beijing's State Council said trade in parts obtained from "farmed rhinos and tigers" would be authorized for scientific, medical and cultural use. In all other circumstances, the buying and selling of rhino and tiger parts will remain illegal.

Experts estimate that more than 6,500 tigers live in China’s tiger farms, far outnumbering the roughly 3,900 remaining in the wild.

Environmentalists said the decision would likely help fuel a black market for wild rhino and tiger parts and could lead to increased poaching of the fewer than 30,000 rhinos and 3,900 tigers still in the wild.

The prices of rhino horns are currently decreasing, and the populations of tigers are stabilizing, this decision threatens to hurt that progress.

"A small number of individuals stand to make a lot of money perhaps at the price of the species," said Peter Knights, chief executive of WildAid.

Experts said the move was likely related to the government's efforts to encourage the growth of traditional Chinese medicine, an industry valued at more than US$100 billion (S$138 billion), with more than 500,000 medical practitioners.