China is reversing its 25-year ban on the use of tiger bones and rhinoceros horns that would now allow certain doctors to prescribe them for medical treatments.
In traditional Chinese medicine, tiger bones are used as an ingredient in concoctions believed to treat conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, and erectile dysfunction, while rhino horns are used in medicines that purportedly help reduce swelling and stop bleeding.
Under the recent controversial move by the State Council, physicians who have been certified by the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine will be able to prescribe such medicines to patients, according to a circular released on Monday.
Chinese authorities have been touting the reversal as a “tightening of restrictions to control the trade of tiger bones and rhino horns” as the new regulation also requires that the tiger bones and rhinoceros horns be sourced from farmed tigers and rhinos.
Concerned groups, however, view the move as a major setback to efforts in protecting endangered tigers and rhinos in the wild.
Since doctors may acquire powdered forms of rhino horns and tiger bones for their treatments, it is nearly impossible to identify whether they came from farming or poaching.
Chinese zoos have also been involved in numerous cases in the past in which tigers were starved to death in order to turn them into tiger bone wine and profit off them on the black market.
According to critics, ban reversal will only increase the two items’ black market sales.
“It is deeply concerning that China has reversed its 25-year-old tiger bone and rhino horn ban, allowing a trade that will have devastating consequences globally,” the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement.
“Even if restricted to antiques and use in hospitals, this trade would increase confusion by consumers and law enforcers as to which products are and are not legal, and would likely expand the markets for other tiger and rhino products.”
The Chinese government banned the use and trade of tiger bones and rhino horns in 1993 after joining the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
It was established by the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies back in 2010 that there has been no evidence of the claimed medical benefits of tiger bone. The claimed medical benefits of rhino horn have also yet to be supported by research.
“It is not clear that rhino horn serves any medicinal purpose whatsoever, but it is a testimony to the power of tradition that millions of people believe that it does,” Richard Ellis, author of “Tiger Bone and Rhino Horn,” wrote in 2005.
“Of course, if people want to believe in prayer, acupuncture or voodoo as a cure for what ails them, there is no reason why they shouldn’t, but if animals are being killed to provide nostrums that have been shown to be useless, then there is a very good reason to curtail the use of rhino horn.”
Vietnam, which also practices eastern traditional medicine, is currently the biggest consumer of rhino horn. The demand in Vietnam reportedly drives most of the poaching in South Africa.