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Analysis of a year's worth of wildlife crime cases in Mainland China

Beijing-based environmental NGO Shanshui recently analysed 1552 publicly-available wildlife case court statements in China from the year 2019. The NGO’s researchers looked at the locations of prosecutions, gender, age and education level of the defendants, and the species implicated in the cases. The results were published in an article on Shanshui commercial WeChat account. This is a brief summary of the original article.

China’s Criminal Law has two articles involving wildlife crime. Article 341 prohibits:

Capturing, killing and harming valuable and endangered species of wild animals.

Purchasing, transporting, and selling valuable and endangered animals and products made from them.

The law also controls poaching of live animals such as ornamental birds, and species that are not listed as protected when they are hunted in restricted areas, out of season or by illegal methods.

Article 151 prohibits the smuggling of valuable species of wild animals and products made from them.

Shanshui authors analysed wildlife crime cases according to these four categories.


Capturing, killing and harming valuable and endangered species of wild animals (197 cases): Yunnan Province had the most cases - 29, followed by Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangdong, Sichuan and Guizhou that all had over 10 cases.

Poaching (955 cases): Henan Province was top with 146, being the only province, self-governing city or autonomous region to exceed 100 cases. Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shanxi all exceeded 60 cases.

Selling, buying and transporting species endangered and valuable species and products (361 cases): Yunnan Province was the leader, accounting for 57, followed by Jiangsu, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi with over 20 cases each

Smuggling valuable animals and products made from them (39 cases). The leaders were Guangxi, Guangdong and Beijing.

Gender, education and ethnicity

In cases involving poaching, as well as capturing, killing and harming valuable and endangered species, the defendants were overwhelmingly (97%) men. The involvement of women increased to 12% in cases involving selling, buying and transporting endangered and valuable species and products. In smuggling cases women accounted for more than 21% of the defendants.

The average age of defendants was 45. The majority had education at middle school level, with those with only primary school education in close second. A substantial percentage was also recorded as illiterate. The proportion of illiterate defendants was the highest (10.7%) in cases involving killing, collecting and harming valuable and endangered species. The proportion of university graduates was the highest in smuggling cases, at 5.4%. The defendants in smuggling cases generally had much higher education levels, with more high school and higher technical college graduates, and the lowest number of those with only primary school education.

The overwhelming majority of the defendants belonged to the Han ethnic group, with some poaching cases involving Tibetans, Miao, Yi and Zhuang. Seven foreign citizens – five from Vietnam, and one each from New Zealand and Mongolia, were also convicted for smuggling offences in China in 2019.

Species involved

Capturing, killing and harming valuable and endangered species (197 cases): 126 cases involved birds, 66 - mammals, 23 – amphibians, 9 – reptiles, and 3 – fish.

Birds: Pheasants featured strongly - Lady Amherst’s pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae), silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera) and golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus).

Mammals: goral (Naemorhedus goral) - 11 cases, Reeves’s muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) and wild boar (Sus scrofa) – both with 7 cases, and rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) – 6 cases.

Poaching (955 cases): 467 cases involved birds, 278 - mammals, 169 - amphibians, 37 – reptiles, and 3- fish.

Birds: turtle dove (Streptopelia spp) – 128 cases, finches (Passer spp) – 54 cases and Chinese hwamei thrush (Garrulax canorus) – 43 cases, were the most common species of birds.

Mammals: 44 cases involved wild boar, 76 - Chinese hare (Lepus sinensis), 44 - different species of musk deer (Muntiacus spp), and 38 - hog badger (Arctonyx collaris).

Purchasing, transporting, and selling valuable and endangered animals and products made from them (361 cases): 176 involved mammals, 130 – birds, 60 – reptiles, 16 – amphibians, 2 – fish, and 2 – invertebrates.

Mammals: 57 cases involved elephants, 27 - pangolin, 22 - macaques, 18 - bears, 7 – different species of musk deer, 7 - rhino, 6 - lion and 6 - tiger.

Birds: parrots (18 cases), silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera) (18), northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) (16).

Reptiles: leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) (12 cases), African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcate) (9), Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni) (7), and radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) (7).

Smuggling (39 cases): 26 involved mammals, 7 – reptiles, 4 – fish, 3 – invertebrates and 1 – birds.

Mammals: 14 cases involved elephants, 6 – rhino, and 4 – pangolin.

Reptiles: Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) (3 cases), Asian water monitor (Stellio salvator) (2), Indian rat snake (Coelognathus radiatus), radiated rat snake (Ptyas mucosus), big – headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum), waffle-necked softshell turtle (Palea steindachneri) and Burmese python (Python bivittatus) – 1 case each.

Fishes: taotaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), European eel (Anguilla anguilla), seahorses (Hippocampus spp), silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis).

Invertebrates: red coral (Corallum rubrum) and giant clam (Tridacna gigas).

The authors added that hunters used firearms, electrified nets, electric lures, night lamps and poison. The firearms were handmade, with parts bought on-line, as was gunpowder. Some bought powerful electric mousetraps – known as “Electric Cat” on-line, and used them to trap wild animals.

Authors also noted that many cases involved farmers protecting their crops from animals such as wild boar. Farmers were unaware that their actions were illegal. Those engaged in trade in wild animals, however, were aware of the illegality of their actions. Most of the trade was done via WeChat.

The majority of the smuggling cases involved ivory, rhino horn and pangolin scale products. A small number of cases involved live pangolin, big-headed turtles, pythons and monitor lizards.

Note: Some of the Latin species names provided by the authors appear to be wrong, but from the article it is not clear whether the original court case records used these Latin names, or whether Shanshui researchers looked up the wrong species. The confusion appears to be between Asian and African animals.

Referring to elephants, Shanshui used Elephantus spp - Asian elephant, even though elephant ivory on sale in China is known to come primarily from Africa. For rhino, Dicerorhinis was given as the Latin name. This genus only includes Sumatran rhinoceros, a species with approximately 30 individuals left in the wild according to WWF, and is very unlikely to be prominent in smuggling prosecutions in China. Most of the rhino horn in China also comes from African species of rhinos.



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