A revised Chinese law on wildlife protection is expected to regulate the domestication of animals, as some practices have been criticized for being abusive.
The draft law revision includes a new guideline that stipulates domestication activities should be “morally acceptable to the public”, Professor Chang Jiwen of the Law Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told Xinhua.
The professor attended a closed-door discussion on the draft in December.
Although it was amended in the past, this is the first time that substantial changes will be made to the 1989 law. The revision is being made by the National People’s Congress Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee.
The draft is expected to be reviewed by the NPC Standing Committee before the end of 2015.
The protection of wild animals held in captivity on farms and in parks is a major highlight of the revision, said Yang Zhaoxia, deputy director of the research center of ecological law at the Beijing Forestry University.
“The draft stipulates clear standards for living conditions, such as room to move and sanitation,” Yang said.
The provisions are seen as a response to mounting pressure over controversial farming methods, such as the extraction of bile from live bears’ gallbladders for traditional Chinese medicine.
The issue came under the spotlight after Guizhentang Pharmaceuticals, a bear bile farming enterprise in Fujian province, tried to file for an initial public offering in 2011 and 2012.
Both attempts were abandoned because of pressure from the public, animal welfare groups and celebrities, including retired NBA star Yao Ming, who called the practice cruel.
Guizhentang responded by saying that it “milked the bears” by temporarily inserting a fine catheter into their abdomens, and that this method was “painless”. However, animal rights advocates said the bears were left with open wounds that were not given enough time to heal.
Bear bile, which has been used in TCM for 3,000 years, is believed to reduce fever, remove toxins and treat liver and eye aliments. Other valuable ingredients used in TCM include cow gallstones and deer antlers.
In addition, Chinese circuses and parks continue to train wild animals and keep them in captivity. In May 2013, a photo showing a child riding a listless Siberian tiger cub at a park in Jilin province triggered outrage online.
The draft would not ban the use of wild animals as they are “important natural resources,” Yang said, “but the measures should be reasonable and humane.”
Another highlight of the draft is that local governments would be held accountable for wildlife protection, Yang said.
Yang said this change would be crucial since poor policymaking and lax law enforcement have damaged wildlife resources.
In some parts of the country, rare wild animals are being sold and eaten despite legal bans. In the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, a wealthy businessman was sentenced to 13 years in prison for buying and eating three tigers.
The man, named Xu, bought tigers on three occasions, watched them being slaughtered and shared the meat with his friends.
However, opinions are divided on some sections of the draft, such as the definition of “wild animals”, Chang said.
“For example,” he said, “should bears born in captivity on farms be counted as wild animals?”