Notes from webinar 5: Legislation and enforcement; can farming wildlife help to protect species in the wild?

How are endangered species farmed and used in China? Is there legislation to protect them? What does law enforcement around protecting these species look like, and what should it look like?

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The proposal for a revised list of livestock in China includes mallards and pheasants, which are wild species. What are the consequences of farming wild species on wild populations? Is there a difference between ‘wild’ and ‘farmed’ in China? Is there legislation to protect them, and how should the law be enforced?

Our panel

Justin Gosling, Independent Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Specialist, with professional insights into the illegal wildlife trade will bring his unique expertise around whether farming wildlife can help to protect endangered species in the wild, and associated legislation.

Liu Hui Li, Executive Director of Let Migrant Birds Fly Fund, is an environmental journalist with inside knowledge of species protection and animal welfare. She contributes to the discussion around legislation to protect wildlife, and the role it plays.

Liu Yi Dan, Senior Bird Protection volunteer, established the Yidan Wild Protection Team in 2007, when she began exposing the capture of wild birds, and releasing them back into the wild. Her work across China has attracted much media attention, and as a result of her findings, the Jiangxi Provincial Government upgraded the Poyang Lake’s winter migratory bird protection measures, and a game-ban area was implemented in Tianjin. Dan’s work has been recognised by many conservation organisations in China.

Isobel Zhang, Host, Co-funder of ACTAsia China. She is Communist party member; Master of Basic Medicine, Sun Yat-Sen Medical University; Guangdong University of Finance and Economics Visiting Lecturer of Civil Aviation Service, Psychology of Civil Aviation; member of the Ma Hong Foundation Think Tank 100 People Association; Shenzhen Ma Hong Foundation for the Economic Improvement Research 100 Expert think tank.


Notes from the webinar

  1. Mallards and Pheasants, what is the situation? What is the scale of the problem? And species, how are they farmed and used?
    Liu Hui Li: I looked up some figures report in 2016 sustainable strategic research report said many wild animals are farmed in category used for food  21million mallards being farmed but we know many so called farmed are being poached and how many wild populations are being affected we don’t know the numbers yet. The scale is quite big.

Liu Yi Dan:  In these years I have been at over 20 farms and what I have seen is that there are serious problems of claiming they have farmed birds but actually they are poached, not just mallards and pheasants but also protected animals – whiteheaded ducks too. They are afraid they will fly away so there are huge nets. Some of the ducks have their wings cut off. As long as they have a licence to breed, even though we know they are wild ducks, they have a permit, and law and enforcement cannot be done. We know there are bans on eating wild animals and this way Ministry of Agriculture have somehow turned mallards and pheasants into livestock. It opens another channel that opens possibility and extremely bad for public health.

Iso: I’m curious about the nets to prevent the birds from flying away? Justin: are the other species where this is a similar situation?

I haven’t seen nets, but I will put into context the trade and way wildlife is used. Similar to mallards and pheasants. There are five uses of wild animals listed in China: food, fur, entertainment, medicinal, experiments. Most of the trade is financially motivated to make money for farmers and traders. There are hundreds of species in the same situation – some come from farms, some caught from wild. Secretary general of CITES said there is a difference between regulated and unregulated trade in wildlife. In theory that’s true, but in practice it’s a grey area and difficult to find legal elements and there is criminality running through the trade. It’s a vast problem and we’ve become accustomed to criminality, but it’s comepltely unacceptable and we should be less tolerant of what is a poorly legislated and poorly enforced industry.


  1. Does mallard and pheasant farming affect the wild populations?

Liu Yi Dan: It’s a very serious problem – every August 15 we go to coastal area near to cities to see. Sometimes within a lake we see dozens of duck fences – a traditional way ofcatching ducks, electronic sound to attract birds, once the birds have landed and are floating on surface of water, they are covered with nets. The ducks squeak and quack to attract attention first and other birds join them, and then the poachers pull the string to close the nets. Many caught are mallards and spot billed ducks, and both quack a lot to attract others. After they are illegally caught they put them into farms which are legal – to sell to the entire nation.

Iso: What you’ve shown is some of the videos seen before. I am finding the videos troubling. Iso shows the video of how poaching takes place in the wild. Other birds get stuck – including Class 2 protected animals, including raptors. So many farms are illegally poaching birds. In markets people are openly purchasing animals. Law enforcement was nowhere. Many places openly accept wild-caught animals – shows mammals and birds being bought and transferred and then sold at markets, birds trapped in nets. Some freshly caught and sold soon after catching. As pets or for food.

Lui Hui Li: farming mallards and pheasants – what was described, 3,000 wild birds were caught and claimed to be captive, many had their wings cut off and the ducks are swimming in such a drastic situation. These are migratory birds. When law and enforcement came the farmers claimed they were farmed. We have conern over the livestock list and wish the Ministry of Agriculture would consider this. We wish law enforcement to go to the very end of consumer chain to see how they are consuming. I secretly visited markets in Shanghai – an urban modern city – and was told yes, book today and you can have them tomorrow. If we keep farming legally then the market stimulates the poaching, and as you have seen we cannot make sure there are law enforcement agencies by poachers, and we don’t have effective systems to monitor. So the only way to prevent poaching from happening is to remove wild animals from livestock list and make sure that wild populations don’t get affected.

Iso: Would captive farming of wild animals protect the populations in the wild? 
Justin: It sounds like a valid question and seems logical that if animals were farmed it would satisfy demand and there’d by no reason to catch wild. But it’s not the case and this is why:

  1. Demand extremely high, and a legitimate industry stimulates wild caught animals entering markets.
  2. It costs money to raise animals in captivity – feed them, house them, provide veterinary care, etc. Wild-caught is cheaper.
  3. People prefer to eat wild animals – they see wild meat as natural, organic, so animals from the wild will always be in demand.It’s difficult for law enforcement to tell the difference between wild animals and captive bred, and there are appalling welfare conditions. If there’s a legal trade there will always be an illegal one, so you are stimulating criminal activity too.4. Iso: This reminded me again of what Liu and LliuDan said – wild animals, people have direct contact with them, cut off wings, blood is spilt, and problems come from zoonotic risks of disease. Are there zoonotic risks from the wildlife trade including captive farming?Justin: It’s fair to say I don’t have expertise in zoonosis but there is significant evidence that many different types of wildlife can be host to zoonotic diseases, we heard about COVID-19, under debate and connected to wildlife trade. We shouldn’t be blinkered. There’s been a lot of focus on food but species are also traded for TCM and exotic pets, and all have potential to carry zoonotic diseases. There is significant risk across the wildlife trade and across the globe, legal and illegal sources, not just in China. This is a problem in our own backyards and all law enforcement and policy makers should be aware. There has also recently been an outbreak of coronavirus on a fur farm in the Netherlands. So far-reaching problems need far-reaching responses.Lui Hui Li: It’s necessary to remind everyone that not only COVID-19 but also reports on bird flu in media, there are huge risks that birds flu is carried by migratory birds. They carry the flu without having symptoms, but if they have been in contact with poultry such as chickens, those livestock birds serve as hosts. Mallards are carriers of bird flu and there are risks all along the line: poaching, farming, sale to markets, being cooked, every process carries a risk of spreading bird flu. We frequently hear news coverage and people are not paying enough attention. So called farmed birds have been poached.
  1. Iso: At every link, people have contact with migratory birds and risk of catching zoonotic diseases. Where do Mallards and Pheasants stand at the moment within legislation in China? What are the loopholes?
    Lui Hui Li:
    We also know the wildlife protection law was published and there was a chapter about artificial farming of wild animals, but mallards and pheasants are non-protected animals and the law only covers protected animals, with specific rules as how they should be kept. Class 3 means ecological, scientific and social value as animals. There are many local wild animal protection laws. If listed locally for protection there is still hope for wild birds in those areas. In Guangdong if a species is listed as protected, the rules are stricter: you can’t abuse, can’t treat with poor welfare. In our country there is another law in consultation period of quarantine law. Current laws restrict food usage but for mallards and pheasants, there are no quarantine rules. They follow the same procedures as for chickens and ducks but sicenficially this is not appropriate, as they are wild animals and from inspection if listed as livestock huge problem for preventing viruses and diseases.

       Liu Yi Dan: Many law enforcers can’t even recognise species of birds, they can’t do it without volunteers. Only when we get there we can tell the law enforcers – this is wild, this was farmed etc so in past years we see that often, and pass our knowledge about laws and scientific knowledge so they can react.

Iso: distinguishing wild from captive is very difficult.

  1. What does good legislation look like?
    Justin: I can answer as someone who has enforced laws. Good legislation: unambiguous for public and law enforcement officers. Also a lot of discussion around bans on wildlife trade are irrelevant as they are not clear and not helpful. We need legislation to explain what we can and can’t trade in different circumstances, when relevant. Comprehensive law is needed: a sense of urgency and may need emergency legislation, but it could mean mistakes are made and we must consider all elements because it’s difficult to go back and change laws. They need to be practically enforceable: law enforcement agents must know what they can do. What are the powers of inspection? Can they seize or confiscate? Can they arrest people? It’s extremely important, what are their powers. We have seen when one agency can’t act and has to bring in another because the law wasn’t thought through. It must not be rushed or it’s not worth the effort.7. How could animals be categorised and use regulated to protect animals and the environment and human health?
    Justin: Yes I think it’s important to be clear about which species constitute wildlife and which are livestock, and how to deal with animals. The wildlife trade poses many risks: zoonotic disease, welfare problems, people who rely on the trade, and once legislation is passed it must be enforced otherwise the trade will continue regardless.Lui Hui Li: While people are working on legislation they also take references from western countries about categorising the animals, but in our past years of discussion wildlife animal protection experts say we should introduce eagle hunting to fund law enforcement, but we don’t believe it’s suitable for China. Poaching is out of control, every year we see this in the media and we volunteers are under cover unless we report them. A small number are cracked down by officials. There are many incidents that we volunteers don’t see, because we don’t have capacity. Eagle hunting – how can you say this would help wild populations? If we listen to NGOs from western countries many of these farms are disputable locally in terms of animal welfare.
  2. What does good enforcement look like? Why is enforcement often overlooked?
    Justin: I think it’s difficult to highlight specific cases but maybe touch on what good enforcement is and what not so good. We must avoid opportunity for loopholes. The clearer it is the more effectively it can be enforced. At the moment we have multiple agencies involved. Customs and wildlife departments, it sounds good but can be quite confusing and the issue can fall between the gaps of agencies and no one takes responsibility. Good enforcement is accountable, ensures justice, and better culture of investigation – not seizing or arresting on its own but looking up and down the chain to identify a wider network to doggedly pursue wildlife criminals. Further up the chain where people control actions, we need detectives, for a long time like a year or 18 months.But almost more important is a response that tackles bulk criminality, people trading, selling in markets, consistent sustained proportionate response as a deterrent. I heard today from TUSK rampant levels of poaching in Africa because people are desperate for money during lockdown. It wouldn’t be the case if there wasn’t a trafficking industry, there’s no point if there’s nowhere to sell the product. In Asia in markets, that gives somewhere to sell the animals, that’s why there’s a rising trade. The wildlife trade is international and touches every country. But the trade in Asia has the world’s blood on its hands and Asian demand drives poaching. The number of people who died from COVID-19 in the last four months is more than those who died from terrorism in last decade. Given multiple risks and other environmental crimes, we need to wake up and see environmental crimes are the number 1 crime from all countries. We need to address it as a priority. If not, environmental crime will bring about more global health ecological disasters. Such as we are seeing now.