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Chinese Law Is Not An Impediment to Trade in Ethical Horn


Chinese law was changed in 2018 to allow trade in rhino horn so long as that horn comes from recognized captive breeding facilities and is used for medical purposes.

In October 2018, the following announcement appeared in Chinese press, translated here for the reader’s benefit.  The key elements of that announcement were as follows.

To strengthen protection of rhinoceroses and tigers, robustly crack down on illegal trade of rhinoceroses, tigers and the products thereof, and to strictly control the trade in and utilisation of rhinoceroses, tigers and the products thereof, are hereby notified of the following relevant matters:


... Where use of rhinoceros horn or tiger bone is necessary for medical research or clinical treatment of critical, acute or complex illnesses, this shall be restricted to ground rhinoceros horn and the bones of tigers which have died naturally, derived from captive-bred rhinoceroses and tigers, other than those kept and bred at zoos, by eligible prescribing physicians at eligible hospitals


.... This notification is in effect from the date of publication. The “State Council Notification on Prohibition of Trade in  Rhinoceros Horn and Tiger Bone” is simultaneously repealed. If any previous relevant regulations are inconsistent with this notification, this notification shall prevail.


State Council


6 October 2018

Chinese Law.png

This carefully considered announcement highlighted China’s desire to see the horn trade in that country restricted only to rhino horn that conformed to CITES regulations fully, and that qualified for trade, under those regulations, not just for one reason, but for two.  Specifically, the Chinese sought to ensure that all rhino horn used in China had been sourced in a captive breeding operation (which makes its use permissible, no matter what the purpose) and that it be used only for medical purposes (which makes its use legal, whether it comes from captivity or from the wild).  Under normal circumstances, such a ‘belt and suspenders’ strategy would have been lauded for its responsible approach to ending poaching, and South Africa would have celebrated that its massive horn stockpiles could be monetized and its rhino saved from the poaching slaughter.  Unfortunately for the rhino, history took a different path.


At the time, South Africa had an interim Minister of Environment – Derek Hanekom, with very little experience.  Unaware that China’s proposal was fully compliant with CITES, Minister Hanekom published a statement rejecting the Chinese approach because, “the commercial international trade in rhino horn is and remains prohibited,” as a result of CITES.  Readers of this document’s misperception #1 know this to be incorrect.  Minister Hanekom did not.

Faced with South Africa’s announced unwillingness to work with them, and without more positive signs from other SADC countries, China issued statements suggesting that they would back away from this new law.  In the end, however, China simply left it on the books and stopped discussing it with Western media.


We can demonstrate the truth of this by looking at what happened next. South Africa exported tiger specimens to China under this law in 2019.  If the law that allows trade in rhino and tigers is available to facilitate that trade in tigers, it is obviously still available to facilitate the much less harmful trade in trimmed rhino horn.


In summary, the law allowing trade in rhino and tiger products is still on the books, and active, and it is incumbent upon us to use that trade to save a thousand rhino a year from slaughter, as well as saving Africa’s brave rangers from unnecessary danger.

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