Illicit wildlife products for sale at the Myoma Market in Mongla

, June 2019.
Illicit wildlife products for sale at the Myoma Market in Mongla, June 2019.
RFA

Weak implementation of the law and strong demand in neighboring China are fueling the illicit trade of endangered wildlife in Myanmar’s Shan State, according to shop owners in the regional town of Mongla, despite claims by local authorities that the practice has been stamped out.

Shan State’s Special Region 4, where the border town of Mongla is located, is under the administration of the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA)—an ethnic army chaired by former Chinese national Sai Lin, who migrated to the area in the 1960s after being sent to China’s Yunnan province during the Cultural Revolution.

The NDAA was formed in 1989 after splitting with the Communist Party of Burma and on June 30 that same year marked the 30th anniversary of the group’s truce with Myanmar’s government with a ceremony at which Sai Lin pledged to preserve “eternal peace” in the region.

But peace has come at a cost. In exchange for a ceasefire with the NDAA, Myanmar’s government in essence granted Sai Lin a free hand and allowed him to build an empire of lawlessness propped up initially on the cultivation and sale of opium, and later on gambling revenues when the region became “opium free” in 1997.

Gambling is illegal in China, and casinos and other forms of entertainment in Mongla have drawn patrons from across the border who also seek out endangered wildlife products for their purported medicinal properties in local markets that operate largely unregulated, as authorities look the other way in exchange for bribes, despite claims by officials that the illegal trade has been eradicated.

During a press conference held at the conclusion of the June 30 anniversary event, Khan Maung, a spokesperson for the Information Office in Mongla, said that local residents have long hunted wild animals—including muntjac or “barking deer,” sambar, and Indian boar for food, and acknowledged that they had learned they could profit by selling their meat at area markets.

“At some point, the hill people wanted to earn money, so they brought [the animals] to the market,” he said.

“However, the global community objected to the practice, so we prohibited it and no one does it anymore.”

While muntjacs and the Indian boar are not considered endangered, sambar—a large deer with three-tined antlers—are categorized as “vulnerable” by the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Trade ongoing

But vendors at the Myoma Market in Mongla told RFA’s Myanmar Service that not only does the sale of muntjacs, Indian boar, and sambar continue, but a large variety of other, mostly endangered animals are also on offer to customers at the right price.

The vendors, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said authorities had declared a ban on the sale of wild animals 10 days prior to the June 30 anniversary event, which hosted dignitaries from across Myanmar, but that the trade had flourished prior to the decree.

“They won’t let us sell them until the end of the ceremony,” one vendor said ahead of the event.

“We have many to display, but they have stopped us [from doing so] for the moment … I have [ivory] tusks, as well as traditional medicines and other things, if you want them. I even have live animals.”

The vendor said he also had access to tiger parts and various reptiles, including tortoises with their shells.

“Everything is fine here—we have all kinds of animals, it’s just that we’re currently closed [due to the temporary ban],” he said.

In another market in the Nampan region of Mongla, an RFA reporter saw skins, claws, and horns from various endangered animals for sale, including from the critically endangered pangolin, all with prices listed in Chinese yuan.

A hunter from Magway region said he used to be able to kill various animals in the jungle around Special Region 4 to sell to vendors in the area, but that quarry had become scarce due to high demand.

“For internal organs from smaller animals, vendors will pay 200-300 yuan (U.S. $28-42),” he said.

“We sell them to [intermediaries], who might sell them to China, or distribute them to restaurants in Mongla.”

When asked about the claims made by vendors, Jay Gaung, a representative of Mongla’s Department of Justice, told RFA that the hunting and sale of endangered animals is not tolerated in the region.

“We don’t allow people to shoot wild animals—we confiscate their arms and give them prison terms,” he said.

But when pressed to provide details of relevant legal action against wildlife traders, he acknowledged that authorities “haven’t put anyone in jail,” adding that “we are currently educating [offenders].”

And when asked whether the illegal trade of endangered wildlife persists in the region, Jay Gaung answered, “not lately—this kind of thing took place in the past.”

Wildlife legislation

RFA’s investigation of the endangered wildlife trade in Mongla came after Myanmar’s National Hluttaw, or parliament, approved a motion in December last year calling on the government to take “serious action”
against wildlife trafficking.

Myanmar’s Wildlife Protection and Protected Areas Law of 1994 was revised and enacted in May 2018, and the unlawful killing of animals is now punishable by up to seven years in prison and a 50,000 kyat (U.S.
$33) fine.

But Mongla’s distance from the central government means that local authorities are less inclined to ensure those laws are implemented, particularly given how lucrative the illicit animal trade is because of Chinese demand.

On Dec. 31, 2017, China, the world’s largest ivory market, banned all domestic ivory sales.

But in October last year, conservation group Save the Elephants said the ban had done little to stop the “prolific growth” in trade in Mongla, where it said there had been a 60 percent growth in new ivory items seen for sale over the previous three years.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/wildlife-08082019150839.html

China’s pork prices to hit record level in 2019 due to African swine fever, even as imports surge, report says

  • Rabobank forecasts that prices will surpass the previous record seen in 2016 in the fourth quarter, hitting 30 yuan (US$4.36) per kilogram
  • Official data shows that domestic prices rose 30 per cent in June as production continues to slide after over 1 million pigs were culled

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Economy

China hits back at Trump criticism of its WTO ‘developing country’ status

29 Jul 2019

ESince the first African swine fever outbreak in Liaoning province in August 2018, the disease has affected animals across the country, forcing China to cull more than 1.1 million pigs from an estimated herd of 350 million. Photo: Reuters

Since the first African swine fever outbreak in Liaoning province in August 2018, the disease has affected animals across the country, forcing China to cull more than 1.1 million pigs from an estimated herd of 350 million. Photo: Reuters

China’s pork prices will reach a record level by the fourth quarter of 2019 due to the impact of African swine fever on domestic production, even as imports continue to surge, according to a Rabobank report.

Pork prices rose by nearly 30 per cent in June compared with a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, with the spread of African swine fever showing no sign of abating, causing domestic production to plunge.

“China’s pork and hog prices are likely to break the previous record high in 2016 by the fourth quarter,” said Pan Chenjun, the report’s author and a senior analyst for animal protein at Rabobank.

Prices for other meats, including chicken, are also expected to rise substantially, putting further pressure on the discretionary spending of Chinese consumers.

China’s pork and hog prices are likely to break the previous record high in 2016 by the fourth quarterPan Chenjun

Pan forecasts that the wholesale price for pork will reach 30 yuan (US$4.36) per kilogram, while hogs will reach 22 yuan. Wholesale prices for pork in June stood at 21.59 yuan a kilogram.

Pork prices hit record levels three years ago after farmers held back pigs from slaughter to rebuild herds after widespread culling in 2014 when prices were low.

Rabobank projected that China’s 2019 output will slump by 25 per cent, with an additional 10 to 15 per cent decline in both the nation’s herd and its pork production in 2020.

The Dutch bank, in its third-quarter report on pork, said that there will be “more shipments expected in the second half of 2019”, which will add to China’s already surging pork imports in the first half of the year in an attempt to fill the gap created by the falling domestic production.

Pan said that Chinese pork imports were likely to exceed 3 million tonnes in 2019, more than triple the 1.19 million tonnes last year, according to data from the General Administration of Customs. In June, imports soared 62.8 per cent to 160,467 tonnes, bringing the total for the first half of the year to 818,703 tonnes, according to customs data.

Given that China is the world’s largest pork producer and consumer, the devastating impact of African swine fever on pig herds has taken a toll on global markets for pork and related commodities. Its smaller pig population will mean that China will need to import less soybeans for pig feed, compounding the uncertainties surrounding the commodity already created by the US-China trade war.

Rabobank said many pig producers in exporting countries also remain cautious about expanding their production despite a rising global trade, increasing pressure on supply and prices globally in 2020.

To meet its growing protein supply deficit, China has also bought more chicken meat from abroad, albeit under its own strict import restrictions. Imports of frozen chicken meat soared 107.8 per cent to 71,921 tonnes in June compared with a year ago. Increasing demand is expected to push up chicken prices, where a 50 per cent gain in 2019 “would not be surprising”, said Pan.

China began to import more pork in March when domestic wholesale prices started to rise.

Imports of US pork

– which fell 75 per cent to 1,609 tonnes between July and December 2018 after China retaliated with tariffs in response to US duties on Chinese goods – have rebounded. Since January, imports from the US have more than tripled from 5,788 tonnes to 17,603 tonnes in May.

Since the first African swine fever outbreak in Liaoning province in August 2018, the disease has affected animals across the country, forcing China to cull more than 1.1 million pigs from an estimated herd of 350 million. Photo: AP
Since the first African swine fever outbreak in Liaoning province in August 2018, the disease has affected animals across the country, forcing China to cull more than 1.1 million pigs from an estimated herd of 350 million. Photo: AP

US pork imports to China face a 62 per cent tariff, but Bloomberg has cited unnamed sources saying that Beijing has approved duty waivers for some Chinese companies.

Global markets have adjusted to expectations that an agreement to end the trade war is unlikely in the short-term. However, Rabobank thinks the resumption of negotiations between the world’s two largest economies in Shanghai on Tuesday and Wednesday could result in China reviewing its tariffs on US pork imports.

Diseases like African swine fever will continue to negatively affect global animal protein output, according to the Rabobank report. Chinese domestic pork production will take more than five years to recover from the outbreak, due to the challenges of restocking that include a lack of solutions to prevent disease and the need for additional investment to restock herds, it said.

The decline comes at a time when demand for pork and meat from the growing middle class populations in China, India and other emerging economies in Southeast Asia is rising.

Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor of veterinary medicine and life science at City University of Hong Kong, said pig producers eager to capitalise on rising demand for meat and pork by China’s middle class, a result of the “economic success of mainland China”, did not invest properly in infrastructure to protect against disease.

“And how are you going to roll that back now? Pork prices have now gone up, that means many of the people will buy chicken instead. So farmers may increase chicken production, then we may have more bird flu,” Pfeiffer said.

Pork prices have now gone up, that means many of the people will buy chicken instead. So farmers may increase chicken production, then we may have more bird fluDirk Pfeiffer

African swine fever will also put downward pressure on middle-class consumer spending, which Beijing is counting on to help boost growth in an economy that is expanding at its slowest pace in nearly three decades. China’s middle class accounts for around 400 million people, or 28.6 per cent of the 1.4 billion population.

Economists at Capital Economics warned that Chinese consumption growth will be weighed down in the near term by consumer price inflation which is set to reach an eight-year high, due in large part to rising pork prices resulting from African swine fever.

“This will drag down real income growth and likely lead to a further deterioration in consumer sentiment,” they said in a report this month.

China’s consumer price index

rose 2.7 per cent in June compared to a year-earlier, driven by higher food prices in pork and fruits, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Since the first African swine fever outbreak in Liaoning province in August 2018, the disease has affected animals across the country, forcing China to cull more than 1.1 million pigs from an estimated herd of 350 million.

Rabobank pointed out that Chinese data showed that sow, or mother pig, inventory had dropped 26.7 per cent and the number of hogs had fallen 25.8 per cent at the end of June compared with a year ago. But it believes that the herd losses in specific regions are much worse, down by 40 to 60 per cent since last August. For 2019, the bank expects the total herd loss to exceed 50 per cent.

“No one in the world knows what to do exactly, because what we have [in China] is 50 per cent of the [world’s] pig population … and it’s on less than half the space of the country,” added Pfeiffer. “That is such an amount of biomass that there is just no quick fix.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Pork prices to hit record level in 2019 due to swine fever

Canada becomes the first G20 country to ban shark fin trade

A shark seen in a close up imageImage copyrightOCEANA/TERRY GOSS
Image captionCanada imported some 170,000 kg of shark fins in 2017

Canada has become the first G20 nation to ban the import and export of shark fins, in an effort help preserve a predator under threat.

The country is the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, though shark finning in the domestic fishery has been illegal since 1994.

The shark fin trade is believed to have contributed to the precarious status of many shark species worldwide.

An estimated one-third of fins sold come from species that are at risk.

Critics say the way many of the fins are collected is inhumane and unsustainable and has had a devastating impact on global shark populations.

Shark finning involves cutting off the valuable fin while the shark is alive, and discarding the rest of the body.

Canada’s bill bans the import and export, to and from Canada, of shark fins that are not attached to the shark.

It was passed by parliament this week after years of effort by legislators and campaigners, and received Royal Assent on Friday.

Fins are some of the most expensive seafood items in the world, as the meat is considered a delicacy.

In 2018, Canada imported over 148,000 kg (326,000 lbs) of shark fins.

“We’re not the biggest player but we’re a player,” executive director Josh Laugren, with Oceana Canada, which lobbied for the legislation, told the BBC.

“[The bill] is both meaningful in its own right in terms of the trade of shark fins but also hopefully leads the way for other countries to follow suit.”

The UN estimates that 73 million sharks are killed for their fins every year.

Like in Canada, conservation concerns have led to a push to limit the trade of shark fins in other countries.

In the US, there are trade bans in place in states like Washington, Oregon, California, and Texas. Congress is also considering legislation on the matter.

There is also evidence that public awareness campaigns can have an impact on shark fin consumption.

In China shark fin soup has been eaten for centuries, but it has lost its popularity in recent years following conservation efforts, including by former NBA star Yao Ming, who worked for years to stem demand in his home country.

As of 2013, no shark fin dishes are served at official Chinese government functions.

Presentational grey line

A political gimmick?

Zhaoyin Feng, US Correspondent, BBC News Chinese

“The shark fin ban is just a gimmick to gain political capital,” says Ben Leung, who is active in the Chinese immigrant community in Canada.

He criticises the ban, arguing it targets Asian culinary culture, while providing little actual help to protecting sharks.

Mr Leung expects the ban’s impact on Asian restaurants in Canada to be “limited”, as it had been long expected.

In some Asian cuisines, shark fin is considered a luxurious ingredient and a status symbol, often served at wedding banquets, but uncommon in daily diet.

It has been gradually disappearing from the modern wedding menu as well. Fewer young Chinese couples now include shark fin soup in their wedding banquets, Mr Leung says.

Presentational grey line

While there are ways to sustainably fish sharks, Mr Laugren compares fin trade bans to efforts to stem the ivory trade.

The international trade in ivory was banned in 1990, with bans in countries like China put in place more recently.

Media captionShark fins are a status symbol in China

“It was so out of control that a ban really was the only effective way to halt the huge decline in ivory-bearing animals,” said Mr Laugren.

Sharks still face other environmental pressures, and he says further steps – like a crackdown on illegal fishing and the management the high shark bycatch, a term for when non-target species are unintentionally caught in fishery – are necessary.

Vietnam Seizes 7.5 Tons of Elephant Ivory, Pangolin Scales

Police have seized 7.5 tons of elephant ivory and pangolin scales in one of Vietnam’s biggest wild animal trafficking cases.

By Associated Press, Wire Service ContentJune 14, 2019, at 3:31 a.m.

HANOI, VIETNAM (AP) — Authorities have seized 7.5 tons of elephant ivory and pangolin scales in one of Vietnam’s biggest wildlife trafficking cases.

The 3.5 tons of ivory and 4 tons of pangolin scales were found Wednesday in barrels when customs officers checked a shipping container arriving at northern Hai Phong port, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

The steel barrels containing the ivory and scales were mixed with ones containing tar to conceal the trafficked animal parts from customs authorities.

The freight was addressed to a logistic company in Hai Phong city, but the news website said no one had claimed ownership of the shipment. No details were available on its origin.

Police began a criminal investigation on Friday.

Poaching and trading of ivory tusks and pangolins carry penalties of up to 5 years in jail in Vietnam. However, the Southeast Asian country is also a common destination for trafficked wildlife parts and a transit point for ivory and other trafficked materials to China.

The pangolin is said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world. Its scales are made of keratin and are ground up to use in traditional medicines.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broa

China’s food supply imperiled

China’s food supply is being imperiled as new reports warn that up to 50 percent of China’s 440 million pigs are now at risk from African Swine Fever infection.

The South China Morning Post reported that Chairman Chan Kin Yip of the Federation of Hong Kong Agricultural Associations claimed that Chinese mainland pig farmers told him African Swine Fever has spread to 30 percent of mainland pigs, while another Hong Kong pig farmer based in China told Yip the exposure rate is as high as 50 percent.

First detected in August 2018, the raging pandemic of highly communicable African Swine Fever has spread to every mainland province and Hong Kong.  The virus causes blackened lesions, diarrhea, abortion, respiratory illness, and then death in seven to ten days.

With production declines of 35 percent and prices spiking 40 percent, the disease is wreaking havoc on the China’s $128-billion-a-year pork industry.  Although Beijing has encouraged the provinces to provide financial support to large-scale pig farms, the loss of sales and cost to cull up to 220 million infected pigs is a huge burden on the people.

The African Swine Fever has jumped the Chinese border to over 52 cities in Vietnam, leading to the culling of more than 2 million pigs.  With the fear of the disease growing, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc instructed various ministries to urge more pig culling.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, partnering with the Department of Agriculture, confiscated 1 million pounds of Chinese pork smuggled into a port in New Jersey in March.  Meat was mislabeled and hidden “among other products such as ramen noodles and tide detergent pods” in 50 shipping containers, according to the Feed Navigator.

Tightening of customs controls at Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan borders is beginning to cause delivery delays in Asia’s highly integrated production supply chains.

Geopolitical Futures emphasizes that China’s food supply is also being endangered due to other developing risks.  The Fall Armyworm has spread to 220,000 acres (89,000 hectares) in Southern China, ruining primarily corn and some sugarcane crops.  With no natural predators in China, the USDA warned that “there is a high probability that the pest will spread across all of China’s grain production area within the next 12 months.”

The Chinese government recently confirmed another episode of A(H5N6) bird flu in China’s Xinjiang Province.  The outbreak killed only 1,015 of 2,545 birds in the area, but an additional 11,900 will be culled to prevent the disease’s spread.  A(H5N6) avian flu is considered especially dangerous because the World Health Organization has identified A(H5N6) as a trans-species virus that mutated in 2016 to begin infecting humans.

Geopolitical Futures cautions regarding China existential risks, “[E]ven if food supplies can be met (which is in question at this point), rising prices also pose a threat to food availability to a country with high levels of low-income and poverty-stricken families.”

China’s food supply is being imperiled as new reports warn that up to 50 percent of China’s 440 million pigs are now at risk from African Swine Fever infection.

The South China Morning Post reported that Chairman Chan Kin Yip of the Federation of Hong Kong Agricultural Associations claimed that Chinese mainland pig farmers told him African Swine Fever has spread to 30 percent of mainland pigs, while another Hong Kong pig farmer based in China told Yip the exposure rate is as high as 50 percent.

With $23.8 billion of agricultural imports from the U.S. in 2017, retaliatory tariffs directly aimed at President Trump’s rural voter base were expected to be China’s hammer to bludgeon the U.S. into abandoning its trade war.  Accounting for 17 percent of U.S. agricultural exports, Chinese customers were number one in soybeans, number two in pork and hay, number three in dairy and poultry, number four in beef, and number five in wheat.

First detected in August 2018, the raging pandemic of highly communicable African Swine Fever has spread to every mainland province and Hong Kong.  The virus causes blackened lesions, diarrhea, abortion, respiratory illness, and then death in seven to ten days.

With production declines of 35 percent and prices spiking 40 percent, the disease is wreaking havoc on the China’s $128-billion-a-year pork industry.  Although Beijing has encouraged the provinces to provide financial support to large-scale pig farms, the loss of sales and cost to cull up to 220 million infected pigs is a huge burden on the people.

The African Swine Fever has jumped the Chinese border to over 52 cities in Vietnam, leading to the culling of more than 2 million pigs.  With the fear of the disease growing, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc instructed various ministries to urge more pig culling.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, partnering with the Department of Agriculture, confiscated 1 million pounds of Chinese pork smuggled into a port in New Jersey in March.  Meat was mislabeled and hidden “among other products such as ramen noodles and tide detergent pods” in 50 shipping containers, according to the Feed Navigator.

Tightening of customs controls at Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan borders is beginning to cause delivery delays in Asia’s highly integrated production supply chains.

Geopolitical Futures emphasizes that China’s food supply is also being endangered due to other developing risks.  The Fall Armyworm has spread to 220,000 acres (89,000 hectares) in Southern China, ruining primarily corn and some sugarcane crops.  With no natural predators in China, the USDA warned that “there is a high probability that the pest will spread across all of China’s grain production area within the next 12 months.”

The Chinese government recently confirmed another episode of A(H5N6) bird flu in China’s Xinjiang Province.  The outbreak killed only 1,015 of 2,545 birds in the area, but an additional 11,900 will be culled to prevent the disease’s spread.  A(H5N6) avian flu is considered especially dangerous because the World Health Organization has identified A(H5N6) as a trans-species virus that mutated in 2016 to begin infecting humans.

Geopolitical Futures cautions regarding China existential risks, “[E]ven if food supplies can be met (which is in question at this point), rising prices also pose a threat to food availability to a country with high levels of low-income and poverty-stricken families.”

Read more: https://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2019/06/chinas_food_supply_imperiled_.html#ixzz5qBmXUFQr
Follow us: @AmericanThinker on Twitter | AmericanThinker on Facebook

Why paying for pandas is not so black and white

 This article originally appeared on The Conversation, and is republished under a Creative Commons licence.

Wang Wang and Funi came to Australia from China a decade ago. Their relationship is best described as complicated. Despite considerable medical assistance, they have never managed to produce offspring. It has put a big question mark over whether they will be permitted to remain in Australia.

The fate of the two giant pandas may now depend on the outcome of the federal election on May 18. Keeping the couple at Adelaide Zoo includes paying about A$1 million a year to the Chinese government.

It’s just another chapter in the story of an iconic species where politics, economics and international diplomacyoften eclipse conservation considerations.

Captive breeding programme

China currently has pandas on loan (or hire) to 26 zoos in 18 countries. The most recent zoo to join the select list was Ähtäri, Finland, which welcomed two pandas on a 15-year loan in 2018. Denmark’s Copenhagen Zoo is eagerly awaiting two pandas due to arrive in April.

Officially it’s all part of a captive breeding programme to help save the species from extinction. Though their conservation status is no longer “endangered” (improving to “vulnerable” in 2016), there are still just 500 to 1,000 adult pandas left in the wild, in six isolated mountain ranges in south-central China.

The overseas placements augment China’s own 67 reserves dedicated to panda conservation. Any cubs born overseas are the property of China and typically return to China to continue the captive breeding program.

There are still just 500 to 1,000 adult pandas left in the wild, in six isolated mountain ranges in south-central China

But the number of zoo births has been quite low. As the Smithsonian Institution’s “panda guy” Bill McShea has pointed out, pandas in the wild have fewer problems mating or breeding: “In the wild, aggregations of male pandas form along ridge tops in the spring, and a stream of visiting females in heat keeps the mating activity intense.”

Zoos can’t mimic these conditions. Since giant pandas are solitary animals, they are housed separately except for the few days of the year when the female is ready to mate. Because there is no mate choice in captivity, natural mating is rare. Most captive births are the result of IVF treatments.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Although no longer “endangered” there are still just 500 to 1,000 adult pandas left in the wild, in six isolated mountain ranges in China (Credit: Getty Images)

Trade considerations

This is not to say overseas zoo placements have no conservation value. But other strategic aims, such as improving China’s public image and consolidating trade relationships, loom large.

For example, the new panda enclosure at Berlin’s Tierpark zoo was opened just ahead of the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg. The opening was attended by German chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese president Xi Jingping. The event was intrepreted as a signal of China’s endorsement of Germany as a competitor to the United States for leadership of the western world.

The event was intrepreted as a signal of China’s endorsement of Germany as a competitor to the United States for leadership of the western world

China’s 2012 announcement that it would send four pandas to Canada’s Toronto and Calgary zoos was linked to successful trade talks, particularly over a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement after almost 20 years of negotiation.

Edinburgh Zoo’s receipt of two pandas in 2011 was linked to trade deals worth billions of dollars.

As for the panda loan to Adelaide Zoo, it was announced by Chinese president Hu Jintao at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney in 2007. On the same day Australian prime minister John Howard and President Hu also announced plans for a yearly “security dialogue”.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Fu Ni the giant panda is treated to specially prepared panda treats for her birthday at the Adelaide Zoo in 2015 (Credit: Getty Images)

Furry ambassadors

Panda diplomacy is believed to date back to the 7th century, when the Empress Wu Zeitan sent a pair as a gift to Japan. In the 20th century Mao Zedong embraced the strategy, gifting pandas to fellow-travelling communist nations. When Richard Nixon went to China in 1972, Deng Xiaoping presented him with two pandas.

Since then the recipients have been well and truly weighted towards wealthy capitalist nations. There are two reasons for this.

This has been aptly described as an exercise in ‘soft cuddly power’

First, China uses the pandas to improve its image and deepen relationships with nations able to supply it with valuable resources and technology. This has been aptly described as an exercise in “soft cuddly power”.

Second, since the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, China has used panda loans to pay for local conservation efforts, mend damaged panda conservation facilities and conduct giant panda research.

(Credit: Getty Images)

Edinburgh Zoo’s receipt of two pandas in 2011 was linked to trade deals worth billions of dollars (Credit: Getty Images)

Financial strings attached

For recipient zoos keeping pandas is an expensive business.

Consider Adelaide Zoo’s costs even with the federal government covering the pandas’ A$1 million annual rental fee. From the outset, the zoo went heavily into debt to build a specialist panda enclosure (at a cost of about A$8 million).

Looking after each panda also costs many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Pandas are the most expensive animal to keep in a zoo, costing about five times as much as an elephant.

Food alone is a logistical headache. Giant pandas are not biologically herbivores but for some reason they developed a taste for bamboo about 6,000 years ago and stopped eating a varied diet, including meat. Bamboo, however, is low in nutrients and difficult to digest, which means pandas have to eat a lot and then rest. Each day an adult panda can munch through about 12 kilograms of fresh bamboo – and because they’re fussy eaters, they need to be given more than double that amount.

All of this means a panda must be treated like a business proposition. Will there be a return on investment? Will their cost be justified by the extra visitors they draw to the zoo?

Adelaide Zoo had high expectations that were quickly dashed. Like other zoos, there was a large initial spike in zoo visits, but by 2010 visitor numbers had returned to pre-panda levels. It was clear Funi and Wang Wang would not add A$600 million to the South Australian economy over a decade as predicted. In their honeymoon year, research suggests, they brought in just A$28 million. Adding a baby panda would improve their attraction value considerably.

Beyond financial value

It’s therefore easy to see why some some call pandas white elephants.

But let’s not overlook the important contribution the panda diaspora has made to pandas moving off the “endangered” list. Part of this is due to the loan fees paid to China. The money has funded panda conservation research and projects at Bifengxia and Wolong, in China’s Sichuan province.

Let’s not overlook the important contribution the panda diaspora has made to pandas moving off the “endangered” list. Part of this is due to the loan fees paid to China

There is also value in Australian zoo keepers, veterinarians and scientists being part of a global knowledge network.

We still know so little about panda behaviour and the environmental effects that endanger them. We have made a small contribution with our own research into strategies to reduce stress in captive giant pandas. If Funi and Wang Wang remain in Adelaide, the zoo has the potential to provide for further valuable insights.

As scientists who care about animals and animal welfare, we believe it is important to also remember Funi and Wang Wang have helped connect hundreds of thousands of children and adults alike to nature.

These two giant pandas have their own personalities and close bonds with people who care for them everyday. Nature is not just an economic commodity but vital for our survival. If you have not yet visited Funi and Wang Wang, take the opportunity while you can.

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Eco groups sue Chinese forestry department for failing to save smuggled pangolins 

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3009183/chinese-forestry-dep
artment-sued-failing-save-smuggled-pangolins

– Environmental NGO files lawsuit against Guangxi regional bodies accusing
them of failing to look after endangered animals properly after rescuing
them
– Pangolins are among the world’s most trafficked mammals because of the
demand for their scales in traditional Chinese medicine

Alice Yan
South China Morning Post
Published: 3:50pm, 7 May, 2019

In the first lawsuit of its kind, a Chinese forestry authority has been sued
for failing to save a group of smuggled pangolins.
The forestry department in Guangxi and its terrestrial wild animals rescue
centre are accused of dereliction of duty in relation to the deaths of 32
pangolins two years ago, a court in Nanning, the region’s capital, heard on
Monday.

The case, filed by Beijing-based non-governmental organisation the China
Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation,is the first
public welfare lawsuit in China involving the endangered animals, according
to The Beijing News.

Pangolins are among the world’s most trafficked mammals and China is the
most common destination for large shipments of pangolins because their
scales are valued as ingredients in traditional medicine, their meat is
considered a luxury food item and their blood is used as a healing tonic.

The foundation said that when the Guangxi rescue centre received the live
pangolins that police seized from smugglers in August 2017, it offered to
help treat the mammals, but the offer was rejected.

The pangolins all died within 66 days. The foundation wants the two
defendants to pay compensation for the ecological losses caused by the death
of the animals and to apologise for their mistake in state media. It is
asking the court to evaluate the scale of ecological losses.

The court has yet to hand down a decision.

Zhang Zhenqiu, deputy director of the forestry department’s protection
section, told the newspaper that the accusation that it had failed to
protect the pangolins was just “hype” because they were difficult to look
after.

The authority said the pangolins died because of they had low immunity and
were stressed by the long journey from being trafficked from Vietnam.

Many had digestive system illnesses as a result of being force-fed by the
smugglers and some had serious injuries.

In February, 130 pangolins intercepted by Guangxi police from smugglers all
died soon after they were sent to two breeding bases – one in Guangxi and
one in Guangdong province.

Last Female of World’s Rarest Turtle Species Dies in China Zoo

China’s latest monkey cloning tests are considered ‘monstrous’

China’s latest monkey cloning experiment has sparked outrage and been labeled “monstrous” by animals welfare advocates.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience have cloned five monkey babies from a single donor with genes edited to cause diseases.

The Chinese scientists tinkered with a specific gene in the original donor monkey to produce the unhealthy animals which they say will help medical research.

The gene is BMAL1, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm but scientists made it inoperative using a gene-editing tool, known as CRISPR. With the gene turned off, the animals are at greater risk of developing sleeping problems, hormonal disorders and a host of diseases.

Researchers said the monkeys demonstrated increased anxiety and depression, reduced sleep time, and even “schizophrenia-like behaviors,” according to a pair of papers published by the scientists in the National Science Review.

All five macaques were born with identical genes, which include the mutation.

“Disorder of circadian rhythm could lead to many human diseases, including sleep disorders, diabetic mellitus, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, our BMAL1-knock out monkeys thus could be used to study the disease pathogenesis as well as therapeutic treatments” said Hung-Chun Chang, senior author and investigator of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in a statement.

Researchers used a cloning technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce the five macaques, the same method they used to generate the first two cloned monkeys this time last year.

It is also the same general method used to clone Dolly the sheep more than two decades ago.

The experiment to clone the two healthy monkeys, reported in the journal Cell in January last year, also caused some apprehension among the broader scientific community.

“The genie’s out of the bottle now,” said Jose Cibelli at the time, a cloning expert at Michigan State University in the US.

Animals rights advocated have slammed the latest experiment. Dr. Julia Baines, Science Policy Adviser at PETA UK, said: “Genetically manipulating and then cloning animals is a monstrous practice that causes animals to suffer.”

But speaking to news.com.au in June, Director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience and co-author of the latest papers, Dr Mu-ming Poo, defended the practice of using cloned animals for medical research.

“More cloned monkeys will soon be produced,” he said at the time. “Some of them will carry gene mutations known to cause human brain disorders, in order to generate useful monkey models for drug development and treatment.”

It’s important to note that because primates share approximately 95 percent of human genes and a number of physiological and anatomical similarities, biomedical research currently uses a large number of monkeys, sometimes up to 100,000 annually around the globe.

“This number will be greatly reduced by the use of monkeys with uniform genetic background that reduces the noise in experimental studies,” Dr. Poo said, pointing to the example of testing drug efficacy before clinical trials.

“This will greatly help the ethical use of non-human primates for biomedical purposes.”

The team behind the latest experiment reiterated that position in the statement this week, saying the institute is following strict international guidelines for animal research.

The gene-edited monkey clones come hot on the heels of a rogue Chinese scientist announcing he used CRISPR technology to create the world’s first gene-edited human babies.

The controversial doctor made headlines last November after claiming he altered human embryos resulting in the birth of genetically edited twin girls.

This story originally appeared in news.com.au.

Endangering wildlife in the name of traditions

As China lifted a 25-year ban on the trade of tiger bones and rhino horn last month, sale of endangered wild animal parts remains rife on and off the Chinese internet

This story is part of the ‘Reporting the Online Trade in Illegal Wildlife’ programme, a joint project of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The Global Initiative Against Organized Crime funded by the Government of Norway.

Tiger bone, bear bile, deer musk and pangolin scales are all prized ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine. They also come from some of the most endangered species of animals on earth, whose international trade is protected by the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). But on Chinese social media and e-commerce platforms, their sale is still rife.

For instance, deer musk, an odorous secretion from the male musk deer, is believed by the Chinese to be of high medicinal value. Over the past 50 years, the poaching of musk deer has been so rampant in China that their population has shrunk by more than 90 per cent. Although the government gave the species class I protection status in 2003, it is still allowing more than 10 pharmaceutical companies to legally use natural musk – either from their own stockpiles or farmed musk deer – in nearly 20 products.

It is easy to buy illegal raw musk on the internet too. On Alibaba’s 1688.com and Taobao, at least a dozen postings can be found offering to sell raw musk pods or powders – ostensibly from Qinghai or Tibet – all without proper documentations, including a special label required to be displayed on the packaging of legal products. Most of the sellers are based in Bozhou, Anhui, which is dubbed one of the “four medicinal capitals of China”. Advertised as “healthy and nourishing,” these items have been sold to at least 5,000 people according to the number of reviews left by buyers.

These online transactions are illegal and completely “off the books”, admits one seller. “Products with proper documents cost twice as much,” he says. “They are only crude drugs. I don’t need a licence to sell farm produce,” another trader argues, before abruptly hanging up when questioned about musk deer being a Class I protected species.

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According to officials at the Chinese State Forestry Administration, Anhui Forestry Department and Bozhou Forestry Bureau, it is illegal to trade raw musk without approval or to sell it to retail customers, while legal pharmaceutical products that contain deer musk must bear a special label issued by the government. Alibaba has now removed listings that mention natural musk in their descriptions from 1688.com and Taobao following an enquiry from FactWire. “We will also continue to take action against sellers who violate laws or our product-listing policy,” a spokesperson says.

Relentless online sales

In November last year, Chinese internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent joined forces with eight other e-commerce companies to launch a massive campaign, vowing to curb the rampant online sales of endangered wildlife. But its effectiveness is questionable.

On Baidu Tieba, a Chinese discussion platform similar to Reddit, keywords such as rhino horns, antelope horns and bear gile, which are banned from sale in China, are directly blocked from appearing in search results, but adverts for endangered wildlife parts can still be found by adding words like curio or crude drugs, or using their homophonic characters or pinyin.

Buyers and sellers typically hide their identity by only leaving their usernames on Wechat in the adverts and transacting through online payment methods and courier services. One seller on Wechat can offer deer musk, bear bile, tiger bones and antelope horns, while flaunting them as a cure for everything; Another seller claims to be a wooden furniture merchant but is able to source frozen or live pangolins and their scales from Vietnam and Laos. “They are all freshly killed,” he boasts on the messaging app.

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微信截圖
微信截圖

Voracious appetite

Thanks to an insatiable demand for wild animals in China, illegal poachers, traffickers, smugglers and sellers from all corners of the country have formed a powerful supply chain. The trafficking of pangolins, for example, is very difficult to track. In one case that happened between 2013 and 2014, the defendant paid three groups of smugglers to move 2,200 pangolins from Vietnam across the border into Guangxi using boats and motorcycles, and then delivered them to Guangdong using private vehicles.

The habit of eating wild animals stretches back centuries in China and is very much part of the Cantonese cuisine. After the 2003 SARS outbreak, which was initially thought to originate from exotic animals – such as palm civets and raccoon dogs – the provincial government stepped up its efforts to curtail wildlife consumption by banning party members and officials from eating them. But such discouragement has so far proven to be futile.

“The culture of eating rare species spreads from the top to bottom,” says a wildlife volunteer, who has only given his name as Yiyun for fear of his safety. “People think eating them is a status symbol and good for their health. In every Chinese city there is always a street full of restaurants where you can pre-order wild animal meat.”

For many years Yiyun has teamed up with other volunteers, going undercover as diners and reporting these restaurants to authorities. In one operation in March they found two ailing pangolins, which were believed to have been force-fed water to increase their weight, in order to fetch a higher price. “It was upsetting, I was still holding it in my hand… The pangolin is a slow and shy species. it will just curl up into a ball when it is attacked, so its life is very fragile,” he laments.

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Underground trade

According to the observations of Yiyun and another volunteer who goes by the name Yuexin, in every Chinese city there are at least 10 black markets that supply wild animal parts to nearby restaurants. These marketplaces are typically used for legal agricultural wholesale in daytime but are converted into seedy wildlife markets at night.

Last year, volunteers successfully tracked down pangolin traffickers to a poultry trading market in Guangzhou, which has since been shut down following media reports. But some appear to have stayed behind. In dark and empty streets, a few mini lorries typically used for transporting wild animals can still be seen parked next to what used to be wildlife shops. Within minutes, one lady has turned up in her motorcycle in suspicion.

More than an hour’s drive away is another market called the Furong agricultural wholesale market. At midnight, the air reeks of animal flesh and feces; wild sounds echo through dimly lit shops. Inside cages lining the corridors are live wild animals like porcupines and masked palm civets – both are protected species but can be legally sold with licences – and many more that are indistinguishable in the dark.

These shops only display legal wild animals at the front and keep endangered species like pangolins hidden. To conduct a trade, buyers often place an order on Wechat first. They will then park deep inside the market at night and directly transfer the animals from one vehicle to another.

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Bitter pills, unproven remedies

For years activists in China has been promoting the message that “when the buying stops, the killing can too”, but many now fear that the government’s recent reboot of its wildlife law in 2017, which has provisions that allow for endangered animal farming and trading for medicinal use, has left loopholes for the use of wild animal parts that were originally tightly restricted to thrive again.

For example, although in 2016 the critically endangered pangolin was elevated to CITES Appendix I – the highest protection status, the use of pangolin scales is still legal in 700 Chinese hospitals and around 70 medicines manufactured by authorised drug companies. Activists have criticised the lack of transparency about their sales volume and inventory, which enables smuggled scales to enter the market easily.

Processed pangolin scales are also still commonly sold in pharmacy chains in China. In a chemist in Guangzhou, a salesperson says these scales not only can reduce swelling, but also help with lactation and blood circulation.

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However, according to Professor Lao Lixing, director of the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, many animal-based remedies were historically only based on the shapes and behaviours of the animals. “For example, people used to believe pangolins, which dig through the ground using their claws, can help blood circulate; Or since tigers are strong, they must have extraordinary health benefits too,” he says.

Lao, who has also studied western physiology, believes that animal parts should no longer have a place in traditional medicine. “First, there are many substitutes for animal parts. Second there is no proof that animal-based remedies are better than other methods. Third, even if animal parts are proved to be useful, human beings should not put their self-interest above the welfare of animals,” he says, adding that the perceived health benefits of pangolin scales, for instance, can be replaced by more than 20 medicinal herbs.

Lao lambasts that traffickers would exaggerate the benefits of wild animal parts in order to extract higher prices, for example by concocting folk remedies like pangolin meats and pangolin blood with rice, which have no medical evidence.

 

Trafficking and enforcement

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a total of one million wild pangolins were poached and illegally traded globally between 2004 and 2014. Trafficking of pangolin parts has remained rampant despite repeated crackdowns, with Hong Kong being an important port in the entire value chain.

According to government data, between 2015 and August 2018, Hong Kong customs officials seized over 45 tonnes of pangolin scales estimated to be worth more than HK$80m – meaning that at least 22,000 pangolins were slaughtered in three years, given that one can produce about 500g of scales. The smuggling of pangolins has shown no sign of abating: in the first eight months of 2018 alone, Hong Kong has seized a total of 16 tonnes – the highest figure in five years – including 11.7 tonnes found hidden in several 40-foot shipping containers originated from Nigeria in three separate seizures.

“Demand for pangolin scales is low in Hong Kong, so these specimens were probably destined for neighbouring areas such as mainland China,” says Chan Tsz-tat, head of the Customs and Excise Department’s ports and maritime command.

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These successful seizures and convictions only represent the tip of the iceberg, considering the scale of the illegal wildlife trade. In Hong Kong, for instance, only 20 cases involving the smuggling of pangolins were successfully prosecuted between 2014 and early 2018, with the most severe penalty being two months of imprisonment. Taking a stronger stance against endangered wildlife trafficking, the Hong Kong government has recently updated its law to increase the maximum penalties from a fine of HK$5m to HK$10m and from two years of imprisonment to 10 years.

Meanwhile in China, the government has finally upped the ante against the booming online wildlife trade. For example in last year’s revision of the wildlife protection law, e-commerce platforms were for the first time made liable for any illegal wild animal goods sold by vendors on their websites. These platforms and online traffickers were also targeted earlier this year in a nationwide enforcement campaign, which, in one case, saw a man in Guangzhou arrested for allegedly selling 168 protected wild animals online, including a globally threatened rhinoceros iguana.

But for the volunteer groups that investigate the illegal sales of wild animals – both on or off the internet – it remains dangerous work. Both Yiyun and Yuexin have received threatening calls and messages, so they must be careful in every operation. “The truth is, some government officials don’t like us, the public don’t understand us. There is pressure everywhere,” Yuexin says.

This story was produced by FactWire written as part of the ‘Reporting the Online Trade in Illegal Wildlife’ programme. This is a joint project of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The Global Initiative Against Organized Crime funded by the Government of Norway. More information at http://globalinitiative.net/initiatives/digital-dangers. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.

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