Jail for eaters of endangered wild animals in China

Photo of an Asian black bear who is housed in a zoo in the African reserve of Sigean The Asian black bear is among 420 species of wild animals in China which have received better protection

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People caught eating rare wild animals in China could be jailed for up to 10 years, state media report, under new measures passed on Thursday.

Those who knowingly buy wild animals illegally hunted could also face a sentence of up to three years.

There are 420 species of animals considered endangered by the government, including giant pandas, Asian black bears and pangolins.

The practice of eating wild animals or their products has fuelled poaching.

Repeated crackdowns failed to stem such activity and, according to the Xinhua news agency, many buyers of rare animals were walking away unpunished.

Lang Sheng, deputy head of the legislative affairs commission of China's National People's Congress, told lawmakers earlier this week: "Buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting."

Those who eat rare animals or their products in China and other parts of Asia believe the practice helps to strengthen the body or ease symptoms of illnesses.

The rules came into force as a new interpretation of China's criminal law was approved by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

Two giant pandas eat bamboo at the China Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in 2005 in Wolong of Sichuan Province, southwest China. The giant panda is a national icon in China. Pandas are sometimes loaned to zoos in other countries as part of China's soft-power 'panda diplomacy'
Picture of a pangolin In traditional Chinese medicine, pangolin scales are thought to help detoxify the body
An Asian black bear waits to be moved from a truck after being rescued from a bear bile farm in Chengdu on February 6, 2009. Asian black bears can be kept on farms where their bile is milked. This one was rescued from a farm in Chengdu in 2009

In traditional Chinese medicine, the roasted scales of the pangolin are thought to help detoxify the body and relieve palsy, while the animal's meat is considered a luxurious delicacy.

Bear bile is thought to help treat various ailments. Animal rights organisation Animals Asia claims at least 10,000 bears are being kept in farms in China and milked for their bile.

Some consume or serve these products for "ostentatious reasons" such as displaying social status and respect for guests, according to a study quoted by a recent United Nations report on illegal wildlife trade in East Asia and the Pacific.

The same report also found that China is the largest consumer market for wildlife in the region.

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