A draft interpretation of China's Criminal Law, tabled for reading on Monday, aims to clear up ambiguities by clearly defining eating endangered wild animals, or buying them for this or other purposes, as illegal.
The bill was submitted for first reading by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, at its bi-monthly session from Monday to Thursday.
Eating rare wild animals is not only bad social conduct but also a main reason why illegal hunting has not been stopped despite repeated crackdowns, said Lang Sheng, deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, when elaborating on the bill to lawmakers.
Currently, 420 species of wild animals are considered rare or endangered by the Chinese government. They include giant panda
s, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins.
According to the bill, anyone who eats the animals in this list or buys them for other purposes, will be considered to be breaking the Criminal Law and will face a jail term from below five years to more than 10 years, depending on the degree of offending.
While the current Criminal Law bans illegal hunting of any wild animals, it fails to clarify whether buying prey of illegal hunting breaks the law. And many buyers walk away unpunished.
"In fact, buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting," Lang said.
To close the loophole, the bill regulates that knowingly buying any wild animals that are prey of illegal hunting is considered a form of fencing and will face a maximum three-year imprisonment.
Having one of the world's richest wildlife resources, China is home to around 6,500 vertebrate species, about 10 percent of the world's total. More than 470 terrestrial vertebrates are indigenous to China, including giant pandas, golden monkeys, South China tigers and Chinese alligators.
However, the survival of wildlife in the country faces serious challenges from illegal hunting, consumption of wild animal products and a worsening environment.