The Maneka Gandhi column: India should be wary of the Chinese threat to its wildlife - Firstpost
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The Maneka Gandhi column: India should be wary of the Chinese threat to its wildlife

We may try to protect our wildlife, but it is vanishing rapidly. One of the main causes is the greed of our neighbour China.
China has spread its hungry tentacles all over the animal world. From killing dogs for meat and fur to killing elephants for their ivory, musk deer for their hormone sacs, pangolins, rhinos, all manner of sea creatures, sharks for soup, tigers, bears for their bile, even butterflies and insects, China is smuggling animals out of each country. India shares a border with China, and we are their main target. We have found illegal factories in Karnataka where insects have been put into plastic keychains to be exported to China. Everyday our ports are used to smuggle out lakhs of seahorses, aquarium fish, birds, skins, shark fins and big cat bones. Tiger killing in India is at an all-time high sponsored by China. I am sure that within my lifetime, I will see at least 50 species of animal go extinct – only because of China.

China kills animals for three reasons: the first is its “traditional” medicine which is full of extremely useless “cures” – rhino horns, which are only matted hair, for everything from headaches to syphilis, bear bile which is extracted from bears for aphrodisiacs, tiger bone which is used for rheumatism and impotence, for instance. The second reason is for food. If you are rich, you must show off with shark fin soup which has no taste and no nutrients, pangolin meat from the most uniquely scaled mammal in the world, every kind of sea creature and the rarer the better. The third reason is for fur - which can be the skin of anything - from domestic cats and dogs to squirrels, otters, snow leopards, horses, donkeys.

All these animals are brought from other countries illegally. They are killed in the most gruesome way imaginable. The world watches helplessly while China continues with these actions.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

When China’s President Xi Jinping declared his commitment to combating wildlife trade, we thought he was serious. But, of course, he was just doing what politicians do – adopting popular stances internationally while doing the exact opposite at home.

CITES, (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) has threatened to put sanctions against nations that have not stopped the illegal ivory trade. Poaching is three times more than it was in 1998. Three African and five Asian countries have been asked to come up with credible plans of action for curbing the trade across and within their borders or face trade sanctions next year.

The nations threatened with sanctions are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and China. Sanctions would keep those nations from trading even in legal wildlife products by barring other CITES member nations from buying from them.

If CITES would simply put sanctions on Japan and China, the African nations would stop killing their elephants because there would be no buyers left. But does anyone have the courage to tackle these two countries? Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam are merely transit countries to China.

In the light of this, the new draft Wildlife Protection Law, made by the State Forestry Administration in China (the old one was made in 1989), should make all countries sit up in alarm.

This is what it says:

While the previous one’s purpose is to protect and save threatened wildlife, the draft new version adds the competing goal of “regulating the utilization of wildlife”; which means that its business as usual - any Chinese citizen can continue to exploit wildlife.

The draft law continues to allow the existence of captive breeding programs of wild animals for commercial purposes, as well as the capture of wild animals for these programs. The language legitimizes the use of wildlife for commercial purposes and encourages more consumption of wildlife products. China’s new draft wildlife conservation law will continue to allow the extraction of bile from captive bears for traditional Chinese medicine and supplements. Over 10,000 are already imprisoned and have catheters poked directly into their gall bladders to remove bile. According to Jill Robinson, the head of Animals Asia, the bears are subjected to: “rusting catheters, barbaric full-metal jackets with neck spikes, medicinal pumps and open, infected holes drilled into their bellies.” Thousands of tigers are being bred in 200 farms and killed for skin, bones and meat. China has the world’s biggest mink, fox, and raccoon dog fur farms. Chinese law doesn’t even consider fur-bearing farmed animals as wildlife. They’re considered “economic animals.” They are kept in cramped cages exposed to the elements, and skinned alive.
Second, it explicitly states that wildlife can be used in making traditional Chinese medicine, health care supplements, and food for profit, again legitimizing the consumption of wildlife and opening the market further to “supplements,” something never before made legal in Chinese law. Which means thousands of Indian animals ranging from rhino to scorpions will continue to be smuggled into China.

And lastly, it endorses the use of wild animals for public displays and performances, which is a step back from a 2010 policy recommendation that banned performances by animals in zoos. Now the law makes it clear that wild animal performances are allowed at safari parks, marine parks, circuses, aquariums, and other privately owned enterprises. Tigers jumping through rings of fire, bears riding bicycles, and monkeys doing acrobatics are just a few of the shows put on for tourists. Training often includes beatings. By continuing to allow animal performances, the law condones the exploitation of captive wildlife for commercial entertainment without providing any provisions for the well-being of the animals. Tiger farms also generate money as tourist curiosities. The growing demand for luxury wildlife products, to show off wealth, has also driven business. There is no stigma on tiger products in China and that has encouraged poaching of wild tigers.

The new draft law condones the practice of eating wildlife. Up to 100 million sharks are killed each year for shark fin soup. 98% come from India. Fins for shark fin soup are procured by slicing the fin off a live shark and then throwing the fish back into the sea to bleed to death. About 100 million sharks are killed each year and most populations are down by 70%. India banned the export of shark fins in 2015. Today, the ban has been challenged in Kerala and smuggling continues. Demand for bird’s nest soup, which is made from the saliva-based nests of the swiftlet, is driving these birds internationally to extinction. They build cuplike nests on the sides of cave walls from their saliva, which, when mixed with water creates a gelatinous flavouring for soup. The swiftlet population is down by 65% from 1990.The new draft law explicitly allows the use of wildlife in foodstuffs.

The draft law views wildlife as a resource to be developed and used. In fact, the word “utilization” is used 24 times in the new draft, which includes no language on humane treatment. China also doesn’t have a single national animal welfare law. Because the draft law fails to include any anti-cruelty requirements, it endorses the cruel practices impacting the welfare of captive wildlife.

Be afraid, India. Be very afraid.

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