On July 2 China’s national legislature, the National People’s Congress, approved a draft amendment to the country’s Wildlife Protection Law.
The amendment makes marked improvements on the current version of the law, particularly in restriction of wild animal exploitation, regulation on the release of animals into the wild, and natural habitat conservation.
In one example of positive reform, “Chapter Three: Administration of Wildlife” mandates that breeding of wild animals must be carried out for the purpose of protecting a species instead of selling them, and must not damage current wild animal resources or habitats.
One of the most contentious issues with the previous version of the Wildlife Protection Law was that it espoused a resource-based view of wild animals that actively encouraged their rearing, breeding, and exploitation while neglecting the more important issues of preserving biological diversity and protecting ecosystems. This led to many experts and conservationists to dub the legislation the “Wildlife Exploitation Law.”
The influence of this flawed logic means that certain clauses of the legislation deviated significantly from the intended purpose of wild animal protection. The old law’s chapter “Administration of Wildlife” actively promoted the trade of the wild animals. This served to undermine efforts towards wildlife protection and misled the public on the issue of animal protection.
This is one major issue that has been addressed in the recent amendment, which does away with the utilitarian approach to protection and focuses more on the ecological value of wild animals, the importance of preserving their natural habitats, the rights of the public in relation to involvement in wildlife protection, and the relevant channels for doing so. There is no doubt that this piece of legislation will give fresh momentum to wildlife protection work in China. However, the protection law still has some major holes in it. Clearly, the amendment process has been subject to interference from industries that support exploitation of wild animals, resulting in legislation that makes significant compromises when it comes to animal welfare.
Exploitation and protection are at odds with each other in the majority of cases. The increased consumer demand created by exploitation poses a major threat to wildlife protection. However, in looking at the full text of the revised law released by Chinese media it appears that although the phrase “to regulate on the exploitation of wild animal resources” has been deleted — “regulate” implied that exploitation would continue being legal — the draft amendment still leaves room for the commercial exploitation of wild animals.
It fails to completely ban either the consumption of farmed wild animal products — like tiger bones or deer antlers — or the commercial exploitation of wildlife, which includes practices like cruel wild animal entertainment. Loopholes like these will have a serious impact on how effectively the new law can be implemented if they are not closed and may well undermine the potential achievements of other parts of the amendment.
Furthermore, although the amendment introduces new content aimed at protecting the welfare of wild animals, including a clause explicitly prohibiting their maltreatment, the corresponding regulations regarding legal liability in this area are absent.
This undermines the deterrent function of the law and risks turning otherwise sound regulations into legislation not worth the paper it’s written on. The industries responsible for serious animal abuse are in turn left free to continue with practices like extracting bile from living bears, feeding live chickens to tigers in some Chinese zoos, and commercial wild animal entertainment.
The natural world is where wild animals belong. The best form of wildlife protection therefore is not to rear these animals for exploitation, but to leave them in their natural habitat for good.
The revised Wildlife Protection Law will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, and although there are areas in which the amended law falls short, there is still action that the departments responsible for wildlife protection can and should take. The animal welfare aspect of wildlife protection should be at the forefront of their minds as they formulate specific protection measures, and it should be the bottom line in policymaking and implementation.
(Header image: A Eurasian eagle-owl shown in a wildlife shelter in Tangshan, Hebei province, Oct. 15, 2014. Chen Jie/VCG)