Concern Grows Over Possible Links Between Rhino Horn Demand and China’s State-Funded TCM Research


In addition to ‘farming’ rhinos for horn, is China aggressively stockpiling rhino horn for ‘research’?

Disturbing information from China suggests there could be a link between state-funded TCM research and the demand for rhino horn, as the surge in rhino poaching happens to coincide with China’s designation of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a strategic industry.

In September 2007, The Wall Street Journal reported that the TCM initiative received USD $130 million in government funds.

Although the WSJ article did not mention rhino horn (trade is globally banned), note the significant increase in rhinos illegally killed in South Africa from 2007 – present:

  • 2007: 13
  • 2008: 83
  • 2009: 122
  • 2010: 220 (reported so far)

Recent research has raised concern that China’s TCM funding and the escalation of rhino killings (especially in South Africa) could share a deadly connection.

Stockpiling rhino horn

A troubling 2009 report published by China National Group Corp. of Traditional & Herbal Medicine, Effectively Utilizing Traditional Chinese Medicine in Unexpected Event, recommends the accumulation and stockpiling of raw medicinal materials – such as rhino horn – because of its “long growth cycle”.

If they are not stockpiled in adequate quantity in advance, shortage of them will occur in case of an epidemic of infectious disease.

The same document suggests that China already possesses a massive stockpile of rhino horn.

According to incomplete statistics, there are tons of rhinoceros horns kept in the storehouses of TCMM companies in provinces and municipalities. If they are not laid up, supervised and regulated in a unified manner by the government, this resource will be wasted.

Additionally, it will make it possible for lawbreakers to regrate wildlife. It seems very important for the government to store up the four key drugs at this time.

The choice of words in the above statement is interesting, due to the fact that in the commodities world, “regrate” refers to buying up provisions in order to sell again at a profit.

China already ‘farming’ rhinos for horn

A 2008 proposal from the China Institute of Science and Technology Research, Beijing, entitled Proposal for Protection of the Rhinoceros and the Sustainable Use of Rhinoceros Horn – funded by the State Soft Sciences Project, Development for Traditional Chinese Medicine Research – contains disturbing information indicating that China is already farming rhinos in order to use rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine.

The rhino “farm” – referred to as the Sanya City Center for artificial propagation of the rhinoceros – is reportedly located in China’s Hainan Province.

In Hainan Province, the Sanya City center for artificial propagation of the the rhinoceros has already introduced a group of rhinoceroses from Africa, and is now engaged in research and other efforts related to rhinoceros nutrition, disease, rearing and breeding.

And, it is clear that “horn harvesting” experiments are already being conducted.

Initial progress achieved in research to extract rhinoceros horn from live rhinoceroses merits the attention and support of relevant institutions.

While the idea of a “farm” may conjure up images of wide open spaces and lush green fields, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to endangered species farming in China.

For example, China began “farming” tigers under the guise of “sustainable use” and “wildlife conservation”, and has continually attempted to have the ban on trade in tiger products lifted.

To learn how rhinos will be affected by China’s plan to farm rhinos for horn (or any plan to legalize rhino horn trade), take a look at the following video about China’s tiger farms (warning: extremely graphic images):

Legalizing any trade in endangered or threatened species will push these animals even closer to extinction because there is no way to tell “legal” products from “illegal” products, making it easy for poachers and smugglers to integrate their slaughter into the marketplace.

Encouraging the use of rhino horn

Although overwhelming scientific evidence has confirmed that rhino horn actually contains no medicinal properties whatsoever, the use of rhino horn in traditional medicine is apparently still encouraged in China.

The utilization value of rhinoceros horn is extremely high; as an emergency medicine and an important raw material in the Traditional Chinese Medicine industry.

The perpetuation of these medicinal myths about rhino horn and the resulting demand for rhino horn “remedies” are driving the rhino slaughter.

The rhinoceros horn is a product in extremely high demand in Chinese herbal medicine markets in Asia, and prices are high, with retail prices as high as several thousand U.S. dollars per horn; in areas of the Far East, the value of a 1kg rhinoceros horn is as high as 60,000 U.S. dollars.

These lucrative rewards are keeping rhino crime syndicates motivated and profitable.

A ‘suspicious’ combination

At the very least, China’s TCM funding timeline, the emergence of research proposals recommending the accumulation of rhino horn, and the rhino farms, are a suspicious combination.

And China’s apparent refusal to curb its demand for rhino horn ensures that rhino crime syndicates remain motivated and profitable – putting rhinos at more risk than ever.

Sources: Pei, H. (2009). Effectively Utilizing Traditional Chinese Medicine in Unexpected Event. Strategic and Development Department, China National Group Corp. of Traditional & Herbal Medicine.

Yanyan, D., Qian, J. (2008). Proposal for Protection of the Rhinoceros and the Sustainable Use of Rhinoceros Horn. State Soft Sciences Project, Development Strategy for Traditional Chinese Medicine Research

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Rhishja Cota-Larson

I am the founder of Annamiticus, an educational nonprofit organization which provides news and information about wildlife crime and endangered species. I am the Editor of Rhino Horn is Not Medicine and Project Pangolin, author of the book Murder, Myths & Medicine, a writer for the environmental news blog Planetsave, the host of Behind the Schemes, and Producer for the upcoming documentary The Price. When I'm not blogging about the illegal wildlife trade, I enjoy gardening, reading, designing, and rocking out to live music.

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  1. Rhinos are now so scarce that Cninese authorities must clamp down on the use of rhino horn in medicine, the chinese population needs to be informed of the uselessness of rhino horn as a medicine, and the population educated about their role in exacerbating the demise of the globally important rhinocerous animals, snd how China can help to build up the rhino population again.

  2. When will the powers that be visit the Chinese powers that be and explain this to them? The 1.3 billion Chinese need to be educated, the govt has to allow the education to happen, and therein lies the rub. How do you cancel out a tradition that goes back to 300BC, even though it is one of the most ridiculous traditions in the world.