Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Off the menu: China moves to protect endangered species

By Zoe Li, CNN
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
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
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0513 GMT (1313 HKT)
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0908 GMT (1708 HKT)
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 0452 GMT (1252 HKT)
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1942 GMT (0342 HKT)
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 0410 GMT (1210 HKT)
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0712 GMT (1512 HKT)
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
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.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0656 GMT (1456 HKT)
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
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.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0836 GMT (1636 HKT)
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.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
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.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
ADVERTISEMENT