Source: World Wildlife Fund
BEIJING — The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a zoonotic disease, has alerted the world to the potential threats to human health, well-being and prosperity caused by rapid nature loss and environmental decline. As the health crisis continues to impact peoples’ lives globally, it also underlines the urgent and immediate need to take action to improve ecological security, reinforce the protection of wildlife and regulation of wildlife trade.
On 24 February this year, China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), announced a ban on the hunting, husbandry, trade and use of wild animals as food to safeguard people’s lives and health, a step welcomed as ‘timely, necessary and critical’ by World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
With the NPC now looking to revise the existing law on the protection of wildlife, WWF is putting forward the following recommendations for the roll-out and enforcement of the law. If implemented in full, these measures could position China’s Wildlife Protection Law as one of the world’s most robust and stringent, making a crucial and positive difference to ecological security and human and planetary health.
Upgrading the objectives of the Wildlife Protection Law
WWF recommends sharpening the objective of the law to that of “safeguarding the national ecological security, maintaining ecosystem health and services, and realizing the harmony between people and nature,” thereby giving priority to protection and conservation of wildlife habitats and ecosystems. WWF recommends naming the amended law as the Law of the P.R.C. on the Conservation of Wildlife and Habitats and suggests underlining the conservation of key unprotected habitats to ensure sustainable health and survival of wildlife in nature.
Expanding the protection coverage of the Law
WWF recommends more extensive and clearer categories for management; covering all endangered species, wild animals, wild terrestrial vertebrates and aquatic animals. Social customs should not form the basis for use of wildlife as food or medicine.
Adopting rigorous wildlife utilization standards
The new Law should clearly define captive bred species that may be used for food or medicinal purposes. At least 3 criteria should be applied: First, captive breeding procedures must be well established – e.g. attempts to breed pangolins have been largely unsuccessful. Second, the wild population must not be endangered, e.g. tigers are endangered in the wild, but have been captively bred to thousands in number. Any legal use of these species would increase market demand, potentially allow the laundering of wild-caught products as captive-bred, complicate law enforcement and threaten wild populations by an escalation in poaching. Third, captive breeding should not contradict good customs and ethical codes, e.g. the practice of extracting bear bile from live bears should be strictly prohibited.
Reinforcing the protection of aquatic wild animals
The current Law does not pay enough attention to aquatic wild animals. More focus should be on strictly securing the threshold of aquatic wild animal use in the new Law.
Specifying the penalties
Law enforcement rules should be developed with detailed guidance. Both sales and purchases made illegally should be punished more severely to heighten the criminal costs.
Encouraging social engagement
WWF recommends adding public participation and social monitoring mechanisms to existing legislative frameworks, e.g. civil organizations and individuals should be engaged and provided with legitimate reporting access when defining national and locally protected species and species where captive breeding is permitted.
“No culture or tradition is worth the extinction of an entire species.” said Zhou Fei, Chief Program Officer of WWF China. “Our key message is that wild populations of endangered species should be protected for their ecological value not for resources to be utilized for food or medicine. Their ecosystem value is much more than the value of their meat, tusks, bones, horns or scales.”
“Widespread unsustainable hunting and capture of wild animals for meat, medicine, or as pets, is emptying natural habitats of much of their wildlife, with knock-on effects for the capacity of such habitats to provide essential ecosystem services to people. Further, offering wild animals for sale in poorly regulated markets increases the risk of future public health emergencies.” said Margaret Kinnaird, Global Wildlife Practice Leader, WWF. “We strongly encourage governments to make wildlife protection laws robust and focus on strict enforcement and implementation of the legislation – and China has a chance now to lead the way. The costs of strengthening and implementing the law are insignificant compared to the devastating human and financial toll associated with any future zoonotic outbreaks.”
WWF is ready to provide science and evidence-based policy recommendations, global experience and capacity in wildlife protection to assist the government and law enforcement agencies in addressing illegal wildlife trade. WWF also aims to support public education and awareness to promote the understanding that wildlife and humans share the same future, so as to root out unsustainable consumption behaviors.