It’s a dog’s life in China for moon bears, antelope, snub-nosed monkeys, Siberian tigers, big-horned sheep, dolphins, golden monkeys, crested cranes, and, of course, pigs, dogs and cats  among many other animals that are hunted, farmed, eaten, traded and generally mistreated.

Although more and more people, notably pet owners, are aware of the need for wildlife conservation and the need to prevent cruelty to animals, national legislation on animal welfare is a long way off.

It’s a dog’s life in China for moon bears, antelope, snub-nosed monkeys, Siberian tigers, big-horned sheep, dolphins, golden monkeys, crested cranes, and, of course, pigs, dogs and cats — among many other animals that are hunted, farmed, eaten, traded and generally mistreated.

Although more and more people, notably pet owners, are aware of the need for wildlife conservation and the need to prevent cruelty to animals, national legislation on animal welfare is a long way off.

Solid wildlife protection legislation is on the books, but a fundamental national animal welfare law for other animals, including possible criminal penalties, is lacking.

Actually, China does not lack of animal protection laws, many related to wildlife. There are more than 3,000 relevant separate national and regional measures,  according to the White Book of China Legislation Construction on Animal Protection published by China University of Political Science and Law Press in 2012. But in those regulations, animals are regarded as commodities and resources, not valued life. The emphasis is on how to best utilize animals, not to protect them.

“There are some conflicts of interests between profits and animal welfare, but the bigger reason for lack of a national protection law is lack of awareness,†said Sun Jiang, director of the Animal Protection Laws Research Center under the Northwest University of Politics and Law in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province.

In 2008, the university established China’s first research center for animal protection law, which led to a teaching and research team.

“The situation is likely to change for the better, not only because people have started to awaken, but also because in modern civilized societies, no animal welfare protection may well mean no profit,†Sun said to Shanghai Daily.

Concerning animal welfare, China is not very different from many other developing countries where awareness of animal rights is limited to few people and activists.

But there is a growing animal rights movement and progress is being made in many areas.

In China, as elsewhere, there is conflict between protection and profit. There is also a gulf between protection and cultural traditions, as in the case of raising, catching and killing dogs to eat, and cruelly farming and milking moon bears for their bile used in traditional Chinese medicine. Antelope are hunted for luxury cashmere and for antlers used in traditional medicine.

On World Animal Day Friday (October 4), conservationists emphasized the importance of education to protect endangered species and prevent cruelty to animals large and small.

According to Sun, the National People’s Congress, China’s Parliament, has started to amend China’s Law on Protection of Wildlife, to reflect animal welfare issues and international experience.

Besides, many province and cities have issued laws on protection of companion animals. They include Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing.

Progress has been achieved in a number of areas.

Numbers of the endangered Tibetan antelope, for example, are increasing, thanks to government efforts and anti-poaching squads. The golden snub-nosed monkey in Yunnan Province is also returning.

And moon bear rights activists in June succeeded in halting plans for an IPO by a Fujian-based pharmaceutical company involved in the bear bile trade. It is not illegal to farm moon bears and milk them for bile used in traditional Chinese medicine and in medicine around Asia.

Meanwhile, back in 2010, the Ministry of Urban-Rural Development banned all kinds of circus animal performances and required zoos to provide good living conditions for animals.

Growing momentum

Animal rights activism is a force with growing momentum. Activists have exposed puppy farming and the dog meat trade — neither of which is illegal — and dog theft. They regularly target traditional dog meat festivals in southern and eastern China. One festival was canceled two years ago because of bad publicity and online campaigns put pressure on the rest.

Activists have attracted huge publicity intercepting trucks loaded with farmed or stolen dogs and preventing them being transported to illegal slaughterhouses.

In April, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a circular requesting local governments strengthen cat and dog quarantine at places of origin before transport, to control diseases that can be transmitted to humans. If strictly enforced, it would help prevent illegal trade — a small but important step.

Stopping trucks raises serious legal issues: Truckers, both licensed and unlicensed, say they have a right to fulfil contracts and carry cargo to slaughterhouses and markets. Animal lovers sometimes purchase the cargo, rather than let the trucks proceed.

Meanwhile, Peking University has set up a center to study the ethics of animal experiments, “which is a good start,†said Sun.

It’s not easy being an animal advocate in China where hundreds of millions of people still live difficult lives and animal protection is hardly a priority. Animal protection can also be dangerous, especially when someone is faced by armed poachers.

Shanghai Daily talks to five animal advocates, the prime drafter of a proposed National Animal Welfare Law, a female field biologist, a forestry cop fighting Tibetan antelope poachers, the champion of the snub-nosed golden monkey, and the Briton who founded a small-animal rescue in Shanghai.

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