Two resolutions introduced recently in China provide further indications government and corporate authorities there are committed to doing more to stop the trade in illegal wildlife.
Towards the end of April China’s top legislative authority, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress approved a reinterpretation of the country’s criminal law. Whereas harsh fines and prison sentences could previously be given to those involved in illegal wildlife trafficking, the law was less clear cut for those caught eating illegally-caught animals. Now however, people who knowingly buy or consume rare wild animals are considered to have committed a criminal offence, and any violation could see people serving prison sentences ranging from three years to over a decade.
Giant pandas, golden monkeys, Asian black bears, and the slow-moving anteaters called pangolins are among the 420 animal species the Chinese government considers to be rare or endangered.
The increased wealth for many Chinese is understood to be behind the expansion of the illegal trade in animal products, which command high prices as important status symbols, but according to the deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Lang Sheng, this desirability is also the principal reason why illegal hunting has continued, despite repeated crackdowns.
“In fact, buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting,” he said.
The Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Grace Gabriel was more upbeat about the law’s clarification, describing it as ‘very, very encouraging’.
“Including wildlife consumption in the criminal law can play a very important part in curtailing, and also stigmatising, wildlife consumption,” she said.
It is a view supported by those in China’s business community, which is also being encouraged to place a greater value on endangered wildlife. In a project jointly undertaken with wildlife conservation network TRAFFIC, and launched during June by senior executive and businessman Ni Dayong, key business executives from Beijing are being encouraged to promote a guide dubbed Good for business, great for wildlife worldwide that is designed to reduce the Chinese practice of corporate gifting of wildlife products. It is an approach that uses a combination of greater awareness of changing attitudes towards such gifts, government commitment to ending the illegal wildlife trade, and showcasing how companies can help make a difference by choosing not to make such gifts.
“The environment and wildlife are very important to us, but we didn’t treat them well in the past. As a businessman I would like to make a commitment not to consume wildlife products and call for all within my circles to cherish wildlife,” Ni Dayong said.
Support for the program was also given by China’s e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba, a company that has ‘pursued the fight against illegal wildlife trade since being established through our work with organisations like TRAFFIC and WWF’. Ni Liang, senior director of Alibaba’s security department said messages that aimed to influence both consumer behaviour, and raise awareness among staff about potential conservation impacts of trade in wild plant and mammal species, had already been issued.
“We will call on our peers in other e-commerce companies, our users and colleagues to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products. We will set a good example – be a good model,” he said.