Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Off the menu: China moves to protect endangered species

By Zoe Li, CNN
updated 4:26 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
A baby pangolin, the target of illegal poachers.
A baby pangolin, the target of illegal poachers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Illegal wildlife trade fourth most lucrative in the world, behind human trafficking
  • Eating endangered species is now a criminal offense in China, punishable by 10 years in jail
  • Consumers are just one part of the problem, says conservationist

(CNN) -- Curbing China's appetite for wild game is just the beginning of the war against illegal poaching, say conservationists.

Last week, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) clarified the country's laws on the illegal wildlife trade. Anyone who eats endangered species, or buys them for other purposes, is punishable by up to 10 years in jail, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

Cheryl Lo, a spokesperson for the World Wide Fund for Nature who is based in Hong Kong, told CNN she is "very happy" that the announcement comes with a long list of protected species.

"The law has always been there, but the interpretation has cleared up the ambiguity. Now it is clear that consumers have to bear responsibility. But we still have to watch if they will actually enforce and execute on the legislation," she said.

Wildlife poaching: Jackie Chan's new foe
South Africa's anti-poaching patrols
Hague on poaching: We're at 11th hour

China has 420 animals on a list of officially protected endangered species. It includes the giant panda and golden monkey.

Many species on the list are illegally traded for their meat, organs or body fluids, considered delicacies and prized for their supposed medicinal properties.

Indigenous to China, the endangered pangolin can be found on restaurant menus selling for as much as RMB 2,000 ($324) a dish.

The cuora trifasciata, more commonly known as "golden coin turtle," is traditionally used in making a medicinal jelly. Nowadays, both wild and farmed turtles are very expensive and less commonly used in mass-marketed medicinal turtle jellies.

The high cost involved in feasting on endangered species means the meals are a status symbol.

Now, those hungry for a taste of the wild will have to think twice before taking a bite.

Rhino horn more valuable than gold

In a 2013 report, the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that the illegal wildlife trade ranks fourth in the world as the most lucrative criminal activity internationally, behind narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

And prices for animal items continue to rise. Ivory costs up to $1,000 per pound, while rhino horn is more valuable than gold or platinum, according to the report.

"We have lobbied against the selling of shark fin in Hong Kong for a long time with no results," said Lo. "Last year, mainland China announced a ban on sharks fin at official banquets and Hong Kong also banned shark fin, bluefin tuna and black moss (at official functions).

"Then China decided to destroy confiscated ivory and Hong Kong will follow next month. So I do see a trend of stepping up efforts to protect species in the region."

Hong Kong will burn 28 tonnes of seized ivory on May 15, the largest stockpile to ever be destroyed.

But Lo points out that consumers and retailers on the black market are only one part of the puzzle.

"We need to see a lot of effort from many different angles in order to protect endangered species and recover the dwindling populations.

"Population decline can be due to threats to their habitat through urban encroachment, conflicts with agricultural producers, climate change, as well as poaching," says the activist.

READ: The most trafficked mammal you've never heard of

READ: Are human viruses killing world's last remaining gorillas?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
updated 10:30 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
updated 5:11 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Is Xi Jinping a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
updated 11:44 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
updated 2:31 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
updated 12:14 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
updated 2:56 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
updated 4:36 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
updated 11:34 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
updated 2:38 AM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
updated 4:12 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT