Wild Asian elephants bathe in dust in Wild Elephant Valley in Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province, on March 15. (CHEN XINBO/XINHUA)
Buying or selling endangered wild animals raised through mass artificial breeding programs is not to be treated as a crime, a recent judicial interpretation said.
The judicial interpretation, issued by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate last month, clarified the application of law in handling criminal cases on the destruction of wildlife resources, and came into effect on April 9.
The crimes of destroying wildlife resources involve smuggling precious animals and products made from such animals; illegally fishing aquatic wildlife; harming precious and endangered wildlife; illegal hunting; and illegally hunting, purchasing, transporting or selling terrestrial wildlife, it said.
The provisions on wildlife protection have been revised in the Criminal Law, and took effect in March 2021, so the relevant judicial interpretation needs to be improved to ensure the correct, comprehensive and unified implementation of the law. In addition, cases involving wildlife resources have become more complex in recent years, and the previous judicial interpretations cannot adapt to the actual situation, said Gao Jingfeng, head of the SPP's Law Policy Research Office.
Artificially bred wild animals also belong to wildlife resources and should be protected. However, adopting the same standard for those animals as with mature and stable artificial breeding technology is not conducive to economic and social development and wildlife protection, Gao said.
On April 20, the Lingcheng District People's Court in the city of Dezhou, Shandong province, issued a criminal ruling allowing prosecutors to drop charges against Duan Jiguo and Wang Meilan, who were accused of buying and selling artificially bred parrots, because the law and judicial interpretation changed during the proceedings.
In November 2019, Duan sold 46 rare and endangered parrots under key State protection, to Wang and others without permission from forestry authorities. From August 2018 to November 2019, Wang broke the law by buying 38 endangered parrots. Wang sold 39 artificially bred parrots to others.
In December 2021, they were each sentenced to three years in prison for "endangering precious and endangered wildlife". The two appealed the decision.
In February 2022, the Dezhou Intermediate Court returned the case to the Lingcheng court for a retrial. In early April, the SPC and SPP issued the judicial interpretation, and the district court allowed prosecutors to drop charges against the two and changed the guilty verdict of the first instance.
The document also clarified that crimes against wildlife resources are no longer judged solely on the number of animals involved, but take the value of the damaged wildlife as the standard of conviction and sentencing, to better match crimes with punishments, Gao said, adding that the "value" here includes not only the market value, but also the value determined by a comprehensive evaluation of preciousness, endangerment and ecological value.
The document also stipulated that people who smuggle precious animals and their products that are banned from import and export, with a value greater than 20,000 yuan ($3,140) but smaller than 200,000 yuan, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of fewer than five years along with a fine.
If the value exceeds two million yuan, the suspects can be sentenced to at least 10 years to life imprisonment and confiscation of property.
People who are the ringleader of a criminal group, use special means of transportation to evade detection, or have received administrative punishment for damaging wildlife resources within two years shall be given heavier punishment, it said.
Apart from the crackdown on illegal fishing or hunting, the document also emphasized punishing purchasing, transporting or selling, as people who purchase or sell illegally caught aquatic products or wildlife shall be convicted and punished with the crime of concealing the proceeds of crime.
The top court and procuratorate are assisting relevant administrative departments to strengthen law enforcement against wildlife crimes and enhance the management of wildlife resources, and effectively prevent the occurrence of crimes that destroy wildlife resources, Gao said.
Efforts to publicize the new interpretation will be stepped up to guide the public to strengthen the concept of protecting wild animals and promote the harmonious coexistence between human beings and nature, he added.