Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 18:02 GMT
China promises to conserve rare species
The agreement could relieve pressure on the remaining tigers
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
In what could be a significant development for the protection of several highly endangered species, officials in Beijing say they will try to ensure that wild plants and animals used in tradtional Chinese medicine (TCM) are exploited sustainably.
The promise was given by state officials at an international conference in the city, held jointly by the Chinese Government and the World Wide Fund for Nature, with the American College for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Dequan Ren, of the Chinese state administration and management for medicinal products, said: "If TCM is to develop, we must get past the problem of endangered species".
"Our collective feeling is that there is no contradiction between TCM and conservation. For TCM to progress, it must take a sustainable course."
Stacy Standley, of WWF International, said: "WWF welcomes this unprecedented agreement to help conserve endangered species".
"The agreement is an important step in working with China to ensure the survival of a number of the world's endangered species."
Ginette Hemley, of WWF-US, said: "This new partnership will be an enormous success for wildlife in the 21st. century".
High-profile species which are at particular risk because of demand for the use of their products in TCM include tigers and rhinos.
The world's tiger population is believed to have fallen by 95% in the last century, and now numbers 5-7,500 animals in the wild.
Within the last 50 years three separate species - the Javan, Bali and Caspian tigers - have become extinct.
The plight of the rhinoceros is little better, with fewer than 11,000 wild survivors around the globe.
As recently as 30 years ago, there were 70,000 black rhinos in Africa, one of two species to inhabit the continent.
WWF says all three Asian rhinos - the Indian, Javan and Sumatran - are "on the brink of extinction".
It says the Chinese promise comes at a critical time, because China is modernising its traditional medicine industry "in the hope of cornering the fast-growing world market for natural medicines.
International trade in tiger and rhino products is banned, and China banned the manufacturing and export of such products in 1993.
But thousands of products claiming to contain tiger or rhino parts and labelled as Chinese-made continue to be found in many countries.