Guwahati: China’s recent decision to reverse a 25-year-old ban on rhino horns and tiger bones may lead to a spurt in poaching of these animals, feel conservationists and wildlife activists in Assam. The ban was imposed in 1993 to save the endangered species across the globe.
Although the Chinese authorities have assured that horns and bones will be derived only from animals in captive breeding, the statement has already triggered alarm bells across the world. Wildlife activists in Assam have expressed concern that this decision may lead to a complete annihilation of these two prized species in the near future.
As per Anupam Sarmah, head of Assam landscapes at WWF India, China is now actually in a position to decide the fate of these two species. “This is unfortunate but true. China, being the big economic superpower that it is today, is deciding the fate of our wildlife. There has to be relentless international pressure on them so that they are finally forced to change their decision,” he said.
The sudden reversal in the ban is being attributed to China’s decision to encourage Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a style of traditional medicine built on a foundation of more than 2,500 years of Chinese medical practice. Although there has been no scientific evidence to support the country’s claims of rhino horns and tiger bones healing a human being, beliefs here undermine science. As per reports, TCM is now worth more than $100 billion with more than 500,000 practitioners practising it. As per TCM, rhino horns cure ailments like fever and food poisoning while tiger bones are believed to improve masculinity.
Rathin Barman, joint director, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), said, “The Chinese have this very misplaced notion that rhino horns and tiger bones can cure many diseases. Superstitions and myth prevail in our country too. But the problem is that Chinese superstition is driving the species to extinction. Currently, they are saying that only animals in captive breeding will be used for research. But in the long run, how will they ensure that no animal is smuggled or poached for this purpose?”
As per WWF, there is an estimated population of 6,500 tigers in captivity in China.
If the demand for rhino and tiger parts in China increases, Assam might have to bear the brunt due to its proximity to China. For many years, animals like the rhino have been mercilessly hunted down by poachers leading to their population coming down to an alarming level. However, conservation efforts in the state have borne fruit with the state now having a healthy rhino and tiger population.
Currently, there are 2,413 rhinos in Kaziranga National Park, their primary home in the state, as per a census carried out this year. Even tigers have a healthy population in Assam with 167 being counted in the last census carried out in 2015.
Noted wildlife activist Jayanta K Das expressed concern that these animals might be at risk again. “For wildlife traffickers, China is the ultimate destination. From rhino horns to tiger bones to tokay geckos, the destination of almost every trafficked animal or animal part is China. Now, this recent decision from China will give the poachers enough reason to carry out their nefarious activities. Poachers always need the help of people living in the fringe villages of a forest. It is important to create awareness among those villagers regarding the menace of poaching and create opportunities for alternative livelihood for them so they don’t fall in the trap of poachers,” said Das.
Eminent journalist Mrinal Talukdar, whose recent book Mandalay traced the horn trade across Southeast Asia, said China’s decision will be catastrophic for wildlife here. “This will just open the floodgates. In the last two years, poaching of rhinos has come down to a considerable extent. Last year, eight rhinos were killed and this year the number is five till now. But if the demand for horn grows again in the Chinese market, there is every possibility of seeing an upward surge in poaching of rhinos in Assam in the coming years,” he said.
“If things are as it is now, I foresee the world losing half of its rhino population in the next two decades. Tigers are already considered an endangered species. We need to find ways to prevent them from getting wiped out from this planet. We want our future generations to see these animals in the wild and not in books and pictures,” the veteran journalist added.