China Approves Jail Time for Rare Animal Eaters

Government deems 420 species of wild animals as rare or endangered, including giant pandas, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins.

Beijing (AFP) - China's legislature voted on Thursday to approve a legal measure that will jail people caught eating rare wild animals, state media reported.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) approved a new interpretation of China's Criminal Law at a bimonthly session, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The NPC, China's top legislature, met in full session in March. However the NPC Standing Committee has the authority to pass legislation and make legal changes on its own.

The report said that China's government deems 420 species of wild animals as rare or endangered.

The animals include giant pandas, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins, the report said.

Under the legal interpretation passed Thursday, people who eat animals on the list or purchase them for other purposes will be considered in violation of the Criminal Law.

Depending on the crime, violators could face more than 10 years in jail, the report added.

The killing of endangered animals and the use of their body parts -- such as rhino horns and shark fins -- in traditional medicine and as food delicacies has been identified as a global menace.

Demand from increasingly wealthy Asian consumers has been blamed for helping to fuel the trade.

In February, the global environmental watchdog International Union for Conservation of Nature, based in Switzerland, identified more than 11,000 threatened animal species, many of which are increasingly the object of global trafficking.

The new interpretation of China's law clarifies the role of people who purchase illegally hunted animals, the report added.

"It regulates that knowingly buying any wild animals that are prey of illegal hunting... will face a maximum three-year imprisonment," Xinhua said.

The report said that up to now, many people who bought such wild animals had avoided any punishment.

"In fact, buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting," Lang Sheng, deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, told reporters, according to Xinhua.

Xinhua said the interpretation of the Criminal Law by the NPC was the 10th since taking effect in 1997.

It said the law has been amended nine times.

The giant panda is among the creatures included in China's attempt to punish the eating of rare wild animals.

There’s no silver bullet solution to protecting endangered species. We can't stand guard over every single one of them, as this man is doing to protect black rhinos in Zimbabwe. But technology can be helpful in staying ahead of wildlife poachers who have been winning the war for too long, according to Crawford Allan, a senior director based at the World Wildlife Fund for a large international wildlife trade monitoring program called TRAFFIC. Here’s a look at their arsenal.

One of the first technologies rolled out consistently to monitor wildlife, camera traps were catching poachers in the act. They’ve since evolved into tinier, almost impossible to detect digital devices. Some have live video feeds, automatic triggers, remote access, heat sensing, vibration detection and are smart enough to triangulate shotgun sounds so park rangers know exactly where to go.

Wildlife conservationists need to know where the animals are in order to protect them. Radio-frequency identification tags are an important tool, WWF’s Crawford Allan said. RFID chips implanted in rhinoceros horns connect to ground or mobile sensors so when one falls off the grid, a team can work on tracking it down and check the animal's welfare. The tags work for other species, as well. Here, two Canada Lynx kittens are tagged by rangers from the US Fish and WIldlife Services.

Getting a visual on poachers before they strike is tall order. Masts with static night vision cameras are used to keep an eye out, but the image angle and range are limited, according to Allan. Light aircraft are expensive, require a pilot, need runways and could be shot down. For these reasons, unmanned aerial vehicles are emerging as a potential solution. Cost is still an issue but poachers can’t hide easily from UAVs with thermal detection patrolling the skies.

Mesh networks are digital communications systems originally developed for the military, Allan explained. With help from a $5 million Google grant, WWF is installing a mesh network to relay sensor and device data. Rangers on the ground can also use the network to communicate without poachers being able to listen in.

Satellite technology has transformed basic tracking collars. Accelerometers inside can indicate whether the animal is well, sick or has died given its motion and the satellite connection means the animals are easier to locate. The collars can be used on a wide range of animals, from birds on up to elephants. Allan said the price has been prohibitive for developing countries, so he hopes it will come down.

The Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, known as SMART, is a free open-source software created by a community of conservation organizations. Available in local languages, the software is designed to make wildlife conservation activities and wildlife law enforcement patrols more effective. Tracking animals, patrols and vehicles means an influx of data, and SMART can crunch it all to show stakeholders the big picture.

In India, the illegal metal snares used to catch tigers were being cleverly camouflaged. To fight back, the TRAFFIC wildlife trade monitoring network trained forest guards to use robust, easy-to-assemble Deep Search Metal Detectors. “Word kind of got around that there was some sort of magic technology out there that was going to find every poacher in the forest instantly,” Allan said.

In South Africa, the Rhino DNA Index System or RhODIS project has unique DNA profiles for individual rhinos. If one is killed for its horn, the database aids in prosecuting poachers. Wildlife forensics has such a high degree of resolution now that DNA testing can actually show which country in Africa confiscated ivory came from, Allan said. Here, a tiger cub is donating a blood sample for DNA sequencing.