BEIJING, April 24 (Xinhua) -- China's top legislature on Thursday passed an interpretation of the Criminal Law which will put eaters of rare wild animals in jail.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, adopted the interpretation through a vote at its bimonthly session which closed here on Thursday.
Currently, 420 species of wild animals are considered rare or endangered by the Chinese government. They include giant pandas, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins.
According to the legal document, 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.
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.
Some traditional wild animals cuisine such as shark fins, and medicines using wild animal products such as bear bile and tiger bone, have roused increasing concerns.
A series of non-profit advertisements, endorsed by celebrities like retired basketball star Yao Ming, have highlighted the issue with a popular slogan "no trading, no killing."
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 on Monday.
The new legal interpretation also clears up ambiguities about buyers of prey of illegal hunting. It 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.
Before this document, many buyers have been walking away unpunished.
"In fact, buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting," Lang said.
Asian countries, including China, are believed to be a major market of wildlife smuggling. The Chinese government has pledged to fight this crime through tougher legislation and crackdowns.
In February, a Chinese-led international operation, code-named Cobra II, cracked over 350 cases involving more than 400 suspects, and captured more than three tonnes of ivory and ivory products, over 1,000 hides and a number of other wildlife products.
This is the 10th interpretation of the Criminal Law by the top legislature since it took effect in 1997. The law has also been through nine amendments.
Three other issues were explained in the legal document, concerning social insurance fraud, company registration fraud and organizations involved in violating personal rights.