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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: September 26, 2011 NO. 39 SEPTEMBER 29, 2011
The Hunt Is Not On
China's ban on trophy hunting remains despite calls for a relaxation

WILD WORLD: Blue sheep run around the Dulan International Hunting Ground (CFP)

Dulan, a small town in northwest China's Qinghai Province, would have been an unfamiliar name to most Chinese, if not for the recent high-profile debate regarding the possible relaxation of a six-year ban on hunting in the vicinity of the town.

Foreign hunters have been familiar with Dulan since 1992 when they were first granted permits to hunt in the area. The State Forestry Administration (SFA) banned hunting in the region in 2006 amidst concerns that hunters were killing too many animals and damaging the local ecosystem.

However, on August 5, a 20-member expert panel reviewed and approved the request of seven U.S. hunters, who sought permission to hunt nine blue sheep and seven Tibetan gazelles at the Dulan International Hunting Ground.

Fierce debate

The hunters handed in applications through two Beijing-based travel agencies, China Adventure Travel and China Women Travel Service, to the SFA.

In response, the SFA established an expert panel to assess the unusual request. After a four-hour meeting on August 5, the panel proposed the SFA issue licenses to the hunters.

"The number of requested tags is far below the international standard, and the impacts of the planned hunting on the local wildlife are negligible," said operators of the Dulan International Hunting Ground.

Wang Wei, General Manager of China Adventure Travel, echoed these sentiments. "What our travel service has arranged with these foreigners follows the stipulations in the Law on the Protection of Wildlife and the Administrative Licensing Law. Applying for licenses to hunt blue sheep and Tibetan gazelle does not violate domestic laws and is in accordance with international practices," he said.

However, the reaction to the proposal to grant new hunting permits has been overwhelmingly negative. In an online survey released by Sina, a leading Web portal in China, out of 1,000 respondents, 97 percent strongly opposed lifting the ban on trophy hunting. Animal conservationists are unanimous in their condemnation of the expert panel's decision.

Hua Ning, China Program Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, urged the government to think twice before lifting the ban. "Hunting is cruel and most profits go into the pockets of operators of hunting grounds instead of local communities and people," Hua said.

Seventy animal conservation organizations presented an open letter to the SFA on August 13, expressing their "great indignation" when they learned international trophy hunting might again be allowed.

They also asked the government to publicize the status of operations at all hunting grounds in China, the number and types of species being hunted every day, the profits being made, and how the money received by hunting grounds is allocated and spent.

Daerwen, a Beijing-based environmental protection group, is one of the 70 organizations that submitted the open letter. Its founder, Feng Yongfeng, said he had no choice but to question the government and the experts' moves to consider resuming international trophy hunting, while the degradation of wildlife in China showed no signs of being reversed.

"They really need to understand more about trophy hunting and sustainable modes of conservation before attacking the sport so fiercely," said Wang, who has a college degree in animal protection. "A hunting ban won't secure the future of wild animals in Qinghai. The locals have to find a way to make a living. If they cannot make money from visiting hunters, they will turn to hunting themselves or begin to encroach on local reserves."

Jia Jingbo, Dean of the College of Wildlife Resources of Northeast Forestry University in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, believes limited hunting will contribute to wildlife conservation as the revenues generated from licensed hunting can be used for animal protection work and to boost the local economy and benefit residents' livelihoods.

"The precondition is the government should carefully count the number of game animals and set strict quotas on licensed hunting," Jia said.

Public opinion, however, continues to be strongly opposed to issuing new hunting permits. "So you are saying that you can protect the animals by killing them?" said a netizen called Dazuiyu. "If we reopen the hunting ground in Dulan to foreigners, it is hard to say how many more will come. The number of animals they want is small this time, what about next time and the time after next? It will increase fast."

On September 2, the two travel agencies announced that they had withdrawn their applications, they claimed this was because hunting season had already passed. "We submitted the applications at the end of 2010 and the hunters were supposed to be there on September 16," Wang said. "Even if we got permission now, we'd have to pass through various additional procedures. It will be too late."

"The public knows little about hunting grounds in China, including who owns them and there are no clear ways to access them," Jia said. "All of the mystery has increased the public's mistrust of trophy hunting programs."

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