In China, a "wildlife trade hotspot," selling and buying rare and endangered species has been punished, in recent years, with only a small fine—a slap on the wrist. Some experts think illegal wildlife trade ranks just behind drugs and human trafficking for most profitable illegal industry in the world, but China has been slow to crack down. Now, though, China's legislature has voted to apply higher penalties to anyone who eats an animal on the country's list of rare species, the Guardian reports.
The list include 420 species, and many of those animals, from tigers to turtles, are traded illegally. The Guardian explains:
In recent decades, China's growing wealth has engendered a thriving illegal market in endangered wildlife products. Many businesspeople and status-obsessed officials believe that certain rare animal parts – shark fins, bear bile, tiger bone – posses medicinal properties, and that spending large amounts of money on them confers social prestige.
"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," Lang Sheng, deputy head of the legislative affairs commission of the NPC standing committee, told Xinhua.
Although China has been accused in the past of amking hand-waving declarations about combating illegal trade without following up, conservationists are hoping this new development is a sign that things will begin to change. Over the past months, the Guardian points out, China has indeed been cracking down, arresting 24 people involved in a wildlife trafficking network that stretched across the country, for example.