Africa’s efforts to conserve and protect the diminishing rhino population is under threat with China’s reversed 25-year ban on the use of tiger bones and rhinoceros horn for scientific and medical purposes.
In 1993, China placed the ban after joining the Convention on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international pro-conservation alliance but the ban was lifted by China’s state council which noted that Rhinos, tigers and their related products used in scientific research, including collecting genetic resource materials, will be reported to and approved by authorities.
Initially, the ban was a way of ensuring that traditional medicine practitioners stop using parts of endangered animals, especially rhinoceroses. In 2010, the Chinese Medicine Societies went ahead to remove rhino horn and tiger bone from its list of approved products for patients to protect these endangered species.
Animal parts are believed to possess some sort of healing power though there are no proven medicinal benefits. According to traditional Chinese medical texts, Li Shih-chen’s 1597, “Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu,” rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years for a variety of ailments ranging from poisoning to hallucinations, typhoid to carbuncles, fevers, gout and boils.
Despite China’s statement saying that “except in special circumstances prescribed by law, the country bans all actions involving sales, purchase, use and import or export of rhinoceros, tigers and their related products, including the whole body, parts of it or any derived products”, fears of depletion of the endangered species still persist, especially in Africa where the numbers have drastically declined in recent years.
For decades, Rhinoceroses have been lost to poaching as their horns are harvested for money in the black market. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), less than 5,400 of the subspecies are alive today thanks to poaching and loss of habitat.
Rhinos are considered critically endangered species due to the heavy poaching in the 1970s. Poaching has ravaged all five rhino species and currently South Africa has the world’s largest population of rhinos lost to poaching — more than 7,245 of the rhino population.
Presently, there are only two northern white rhinos left in the world and to preserve the rhino species, conservationists and scientists have resorted to In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) technology to procreate.
With the lifting of the ban, the endangered species are at a higher risk of going extinct as the demand of the animal parts for medicinal purposes would open wider doors in the black market, animal trafficking rings and poachers will profit from illegal operations backed by the Asian country’s legal declaration.