In what conservationists are calling a disastrous move, China has rolled back its restrictions on the use of tiger bones and rhino horns as they detailed a plan to "control" their trade.
According to Sky News, trade in the country will be restricted to farmed animals, and only for the purposes of "medical research or in healing."
"Under the special circumstances, regulation on the sales and use of these products will be strengthened, and any related actions will be authorized," the plan details, adding, "The trade volume will be strictly controlled."
This could be a devastating blow for both populations, with less than 4,000 tigers estimated to still survive in the wild, while the rhino population hovers around 30,000 globally. China first banned the trade of tiger and rhino products in 1993 as a result of major pressure placed on them by conservation organizations as both species' numbers started to drastically dwindle. Both tiger bones and rhino horns are used in the country in traditional medicines.
Conservationists are concerned that lifting the ban at any level and for any cause will "create a cover for poachers and smugglers to continue hunting animals in the wild and selling their body parts.""It sets up what is essentially a laundering scheme for illegal tiger bone and rhino horn to enter the marketplace and further perpetuate the demand for these animal parts," Iris Ho, a wildlife protection specialist at the Humane Society, said. "With this announcement, the Chinese government has signed a death warrant for imperiled rhinos and tigers in the wild who already face myriad threats to their survival."
While conservationists have lashed out over the lifting of the ban, China has spoken up to defend the decision, saying that "the change aims to fill gaps in past regulations while enhancing enforcement and claiming the protection of endangered species has been its consistent position."
"I've noticed the concerns of the relevant parties about this and we are willing to step up exchanges with other countries in this aspect," foreign minister Lu Kang said.
The news of China relaxing its protections of tiger bones and rhino horns came just a day after conservation organization the World Wildlife Fund released statistics showing that nearly 60% of wildlife on the planet has been wiped out by human activity since as recently as 1970.
China was also praised just this year for imposing a ban on ivory products that have been threatening the elephant population globally.