China says 15,000 people were arrested for wildlife crime in 2020

Scales of pangolins are spread on a table form a blue and pink bag
Scales of pangolins Chinese customs officials seized on a ship in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China November 29, 2017, photo: Reuters/Stringer

China said on Monday that more than 15,000 people were prosecuted for wildlife-related crimes in the first nine months of the year. That’s 66% more than in 2019, state prosecutors said.

The Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement published on its website that nearly 7,000 of the total arrests involved the violation of fishing restrictions.

Around 4,000 people were prosecuted for illegal hunting and 3,000 for illegally purchasing, transporting and selling endangered wild animal products.

Officials warned that the illegal wildlife business had shifted online, with traders using e-commerce platforms to sell prohibited wild animals. The “exotic pet” trade was also a rising challenge, they added.

China’s lucrative and poorly regulated wildlife trade came under the spotlight in January after the first outbreak of COVID-19 in the city of Wuhan was traced to a market selling wildlife products.

Scientists believe the novel coronavirus originated in horseshoe bats and could have infected humans via an intermediary species, with pangolins identified as a potential suspect.

In February, Chinese legislators passed a resolution banning the sale and consumption of wild animals like bats, pangolins, exotic birds, and arctic foxes. There were exceptions for the fur and traditional Chinese medicine trades, creating a loophole for traders, animal rights activists said when the ban was introduced.

Since then, two major wildlife breeding provinces offered to exchange animals for cash, so hunters and breeders could switch professions.

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