2017-06-29 15:44:10

China’s State Forestry Administration on Wednesday unveiled relaxed rules for the commercial breeding of nine wild animal species.

According to the administration’s announcement, the move is intended to relieve pressure on the wild populations of these species, all of which are nationally protected. But environmentalists say they’re afraid the move will increase the demand for illegally hunted animals.

Three of the species — the sika deer, red deer, and East Asian bullfrog — are protected animals in China. The six others, including three crocodile species, two flightless birds — the common ostrich and greater rhea — and the giant Asian pond turtle are non-native to China. The relaxed regulations will make it easier for breeders of these species to obtain the documentation necessary to sell the animals or turn them into food or other products.

The list follows the 2016 amendment to China’s Wildlife Protection Law — which has also been criticized by conservationists — stipulating that commercial captivity rules be simplified for protected species for which mature breeding technologies exist, and for which breeding does not rely on wild populations. The administration said the nine are the first batch of species to be included in the relaxed regulations, and that the list will take effect on July 1.

Jiang Zhigang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology, contributed to the creation of the list. In a statement seen by Sixth Tone, Jiang explained that wild animals and animals bred in captivity were previously treated equally under China’s laws and regulations. This led to “misunderstandings and resistance from society” and created obstacles for breeders trying to sell legal wild animal products.

But environmentalists believe the new rules will end up harming the listed species’ wild populations. “The name list is separate from wildlife protection. It’s purely about [the animals’] exploitation,” Hu Chunmei, head of Beijing-based animal welfare group Freedom for Animal Actors, told Sixth Tone.

Sun Quanhui, a senior adviser at nongovernmental organization World Animal Protection, told Sixth Tone that increasing the trade in wild animals that have been bred in captivity will cause the demand for animals that have been illegally hunted and smuggled to rise as well. “The logic of increasing captive breeding to protect the wild is problematic,” he said. “Captive breeding also goes against animal welfare.”

Hu echoes this opinion, pointing out that furthering the breeding of animals in captivity promotes the idea that they are meant for consumption while not fundamentally improving wildlife protection. “Captive breeding has a cost, while illegal hunting is low-cost,” Hu said. “The crucial part of animal protection is still protecting animals in the wild.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Sika deer are seen on a farm in Liaoyuan, Jilin province, July 27, 2012. Xu Xiaolin/Sixth Tone)