XINING, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- Seven U.S. citizens who have applied for permission to go hunting for wild animals in northwest China's Qinghai Province have sparked a debate over the country's years-long hunting ban for foreigners.
If their applications are approved by the State Forestry Administration, it will set a precedent that will allow more foreigners to hunt in the area, according to local government authorities.
It may also result in China's reopening its doors to foreign hunters, said Cai Ping, director of the wildlife and natural reserve department of the Qinghai Forestry Bureau.
On Aug. 5, a 20-member committee reviewed and approved the foreigners' request to hunt sheep and Tibetan gazelles at the Qinghai Dulan Hunting Ground. The gazelles are considered by the Chinese government to be protected animals.
The State Forestry Administration is expected to make its final decision regarding their application within 20 working days, said Yan Xun, an official with the administration.
"So far, the seven U.S. citizens' applications are in accordance with all major requirements," said Bi Yanying, an associate professor with the Law School of the University of International Relations.
According to China's Law on the Protection of Wildlife, it is illegal to hunt animals that are under any level of state protection. However, the law also says that hunting applications for protected animals may be considered for the purposes of scientific research and exhibition.
Ever since 2006, the State Forestry Administration has refused to grant hunting licenses to foreigners over public pressure regarding its hunting license auctions, said Wang Wei, director of the Zheng-An Travel Agency.
Headquartered in Beijing, the Zheng-An Travel Agency regularly sets up hunting expeditions for both Chinese and foreigners. Over 100 of its Chinese customers have taken hunting trips to Africa, South America and North America since 2002.
The Qinghai Dulan Hunting Ground has hosted more than 700 hunters since being approved as a hunting ground in 1987, said Hang Qingjia, head of the hunting ground.
It has received approximately 20 million yuan (about 3.12 million U.S. dollars) in fees and contributed about four million yuan in taxes since opening to hunters, Hang said.
About one-tenth of the ground's revenues have been used to fund environmental protection programs in the region, while other funds have been used to compensate local herders who have lost grazing areas to the hunting grounds, he said.
In spite of this, some wildlife experts have called for prudence in lifting the hunting ban for foreigners, as wildlife resource surveys in China are still incomplete.
Wild animals can be considered to be a "renewable resource," however, it is important to strengthen the country's monitoring of its natural resources and identify which animals are too rare to be hunted, according to Li Feng, a professor at the Northeast Forestry University.