Law Library Stacks

To view PDFs Acrobat Reader

Back to Regulations Concerning the Private Possession of Big Cats

Back to Top

I. Introduction

A historic tiger range country, China now has only fifty to sixty tigers in the wild.[1] Under Chinese law, these tigers are state property.[2] Many more tigers, with the numbers ranging from hundreds to as many as six thousand, are in captivity.[3] According to the government’s official statistics, about two hundred facilities, including zoos, wildlife parks, and other “wildlife domestication and breeding centers,” have been licensed to domesticate and breed tigers.[4]

When it was enacted in the 1980s, China’s Wildlife Protection Law encouraged domestication and breeding of wildlife species for various purposes, including human utilization.[5] Tiger body parts have been used in traditional Chinese medicine.In 1993, the State Council issued the Circular on Banning the Trade of Rhinoceros Horn and Tiger Bone (hereinafter “the Circular”).The Circular banned the trade of tiger bone and its use in traditional Chinese medicine.[6] Since then, tiger bone has been removed from the list of ingredients in the traditional Chinese pharmacopoeia, and manufacturing or trading traditional Chinese medicine containing tiger bone has become illegal.[7]

Nevertheless, international observers have found that some of the tiger domestication and breeding facilities openly market products containing tiger parts.Many of the facilities stockpile tiger carcasses in the hope that a legalized tiger trade will one day be reopened.[8]

Back to Top

II. Big Cats Under the Wildlife Protection Law

The Wildlife Protection Law was promulgated in 1988 and took effect in 1989.In the ensuing twenty-four years the Law has not been substantively amended.[9] The State Forestry Administration (SFA) and its subnational counterparts are authorized by the Wildlife Protection Law to manage the terrestrial wildlife species within China’s border.[10]

The Wildlife Protection Law groups China’s rare and endangered wildlife species into two classes for state protection.[11] Four species of big cats are listed under the first class of state protected wildlife—tigers, lions, clouded leopards, and snow leopards.[12] Catching, trading, and using wildlife in the first class of state-protected wildlife species must be approved by the state wildlife management authority, namely the SFA itself.[13] The Law further requires a wildlife domestication and breeding license to be obtained for keeping the state-protected wildlife species in captivity and breeding them.

Back to Top

III. Wildlife Domestication and Breeding License

China’s Wildlife Protection Law generally encourages domestication and breeding of wildlife species.  In order to keep or breed state-protected wildlife species, a wildlife domestication and breeding license must be obtained from the government wildlife management authorities.[14]  In 1991, the Ministry of Forestry, then the state wildlife management authority, formulated the licensing rules in accordance with the Wildlife Protection Law.[15]

According to the licensing rules, any organizations and individuals may apply for a license to domesticate and breed wildlife species.  Eligible purposes include wildlife protection, research, exhibition, and other commercial purposes.[16]  Private zoos are not excluded or specially regulated by the Wildlife Protection Law and the licensing rules, and therefore licenses should be required for them to keep the animals as well as for public facilities. 

A.  Procedure for Licensing

Domestication and breeding of animals listed under the first class of state-protected wildlife species, including the four big cats mentioned above, must be approved by the SFA itself.  The application is filed through the provincial-level authorities.[17] 

In reviewing applications for licenses, the SFA must consider whether there are

  • determined premises and the necessary equipment for the domestication and breeding of wild animals;
  • sufficient funds, personnel, and technology for the types and number of wild animals to be domesticated and bred; and
  • secured sources of food for the wild animals.[18]

The application may be rejected if

  • the source of the wild animals is not clear;
  • the wildlife species has not been successfully domesticated or bred; or
  • the body of the animal in the wild is too small to satisfy the demand of domestication and breeding.[19]

The license holders are required to keep and breed animals belonging to the same species, while the number of animals they may have is not limited by the licensing rules.[20] 

B.  Penalties

The licensing rules require wildlife management authorities above the county level to examine the wildlife domestication and breeding licenses periodically. If wild animals are found to be kept without a proper license as required by law, the animals may be confiscated.[21] 

If any of the following is found, the wildlife domestication and breeding licenses may be revoked:

  • domestication and breeding of wildlife species outside the scope of the species identified in the license

  • the license was obtained illegally
  • the license was forged, altered, transferred, or sold
  • the illegal sale or utilization of wild animals and their products
  • the holder failed to engage in domestication and breeding after one year from obtaining the license

When the license is revoked, the animals in captivity may also be confiscated, according to the licensing rules.[22] 

Back to Top

Laney Zhang
Foreign Law Specialist
June 2013


[1] Interview with the Deputy Director of the State Forestry Administration (SFA) published on the SFA official website (hereinafter “SFA Interview”) (Feb. 12, 2010), (in Chinese).

[2] Dongwu Baohu Fa [Wildlife Protection Law] (adopted by the Standing Committee on Nov. 8, 1988, amended Aug. 28, 2004), art. 3, The Laws of the People’s Republic of China (2004), 341–49.

[3] International Fund for Animal Welfare, Made in China: The Illicit Trade in Tiger Bone in China (Sept. 2006) (hereinafter IFAW Report) at 3, document.asp?document_id=50; SFA Interview, supra note 1.

[4] SFA Interview, supra note 1.

[5] Wildlife Protection Law art. 17.

[6] Guowuyuan Guanyu Jinzhi Xiniu Jiao he Hugu Maoyi de Tongzhi [State Council Notice on Banning Trade of Rhino Horn and Tiger Bone] (Guo Fa [1993] No. 39, May 29, 1993), 2003-04/15/content_5313829.htm.

[7] IFAW Report, supra note 3, at 2.

[8] Id. at 3.

[9] Wildlife Protection Law, in general.

[10] Id. art. 7.

[11] Id. art. 9.

[12] Guojia Zhongdian Baohu Yesheng Dongwu Minglu [List of Wildlife Species Under State Protection] (Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture Ministry of the People’s Republic of China, Jan. 14, 1989, amended by the SFA on Feb. 21, 2003), WestLawChina (by subscription).

[13] Wildlife Protection Law arts. 16 & 22.

[14] Id. art. 17.

[15] Guojia Zhongdian Baohu Yesheng Dongwu Xunyang Fanzhi Xukezheng Guanli Banfa [Administrative Measures on Domestication and Breeding Licenses for Wildlife Species Under State Protection] (Ministry of Forestry, Apr. 1, 1991),

[16] Id. art. 2.

[17] Id. art. 5.

[18] Id. art. 3.

[19] Id. art. 4.

[20] Id. art. 8.

[21] Id. art. 11.

[22] Id. art. 12.

Back to Top



Last Updated: 06/30/2015