Asia for Animals: China conference will focus on using laws creatively to protect animals

The 11th Asia for Animals (AfA) symposium will take place in Dalian, China, from October 18 to 20, 2019. The theme is using laws creatively to protect animals.

More than four hundred people will attend the conference. They range from people working on the ground in rescue and rehabilitation organisations to animal advocates, veterinarians, scientists, government officials, scholars, and those working in education.

The biennial event is this year being co-organised by the Animals for Asia Coalition and the Vshine Animal Protection Association, based in Dalian.

“The symposium will be a forum for sharing experiences and exchanging views about practical ways of protecting animals through the creative use of existing laws, regulations, and policies,” said the founder of Vshine, Hongmei Yu.

“Utilising legitimate weapons to protect animals is not the sole responsibility of legal specialists,” Hongmei Yu said. “Animal activists, members of the media, child protection agency workers, and the general public can also be influential participants in efforts to crack down on cruel practices.”

Protection of animals is a global challenge, Hongmei Yu says. “One of the obstacles is the absence of laws for preventing and penalising animal cruelty.

This challenge is more pressing in mainland China than in any other regions or countries.”

The lack of anti-cruelty legislation is not an insurmountable obstacle, however, Hongmei Yu says.

“While Chinese animal activists should continue to encourage the country’s legislative authorities to start the process of animal protection lawmaking, they realise that existing laws, regulations, and policies that directly or indirectly address non-human animals or those that are unrelated to animal issues can be used creatively to protect animals.”

Hongmei Yu cites the case of science student at Tsinghua University, who, in 2002, dumped concentrated acid on five bears at Beijing Zoo. The student was penalised for property violation.

She also cites the case of a Weihai driver who, in 2016, brutally dragged a dog to its death behind his vehicle in broad daylight.

“He was reportedly penalised for violating traffic regulations,” Hongmei Yu said.  “These are two cases in China of animal abusers being penalised for animal cruelty under laws unrelated to animal protection.”

The various laws that may indirectly relate to animal welfare in certain circumstances include legislation about about the protection of young people, laws relating to assault, and even legislation about business contracts.

In 2018, the Mexican state of Baja California forbade minors from attending bullfights under its Law for the Protection of Girls, Boys, and Adolescents. The ban was implemented on the grounds that exposing children to extreme violence against animals is a form of psychological abuse.

While not designed to protect animals, the law benefitted them by not only restricting attendance at bullfights but by also preventing the training of new matadors, which traditionally begins in childhood.

Property laws have been used to prosecute cases in which someone has stolen and tortured or killed another person’s animal or animals in jurisdictions that either have no direct anti-cruelty legislation or where using legislation relating to property damage would secure a harsher punishment.

Other topics that will be discussed during AfA 2019 include the following:

  •  laws and regulations about the broadcasting of violence against animals in cyberspace;
  •  animal cruelty in public;
  •  the protection of companion animals;
  •  laws and regulations about food safety and animal disease control;
  •  cruelty against wildlife in captivity;
  •  wildlife farming;
  •  laws and regulations about advertising and trademarks;
  •  animals in laboratories; and
  •  laws and regulations about animal welfare and conservation, and research management.

One of the keynote speakers at the symposium will be Sun Jiang, a law professor from the Northwest China University of Law and Politics and director of the university’s Animal Protection Research Centre (APRC). He will talk about the challenges of legislating to protect animals in mainland China.

Sun Jiang is the co-author of China’s first college textbook about animal protection.

Professor Sun established the APRC in 2008. He also launched a nationwide college students animal protection alliance.

In 2009–2010 and 2015–2016, Sun Jiang participated in the drafting of the Animal Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China and offered comments on the revised drafts of the Wildlife Protection Law.

Animal welfare and religion

This year’s keynote speakers also include the executive director of the Animal People charity, Wolf Gordon Clifton, who will talk about legal dilemmas relating to animal welfare and religious freedom.

Clifton believes that to change how animals are treated in the long term, we need to alter cultural attitudes towards them. He is particularly interested in how traditional beliefs and practices impact animals, and how to foster reform within religious traditions to promote more animal-friendly interpretations.

Clifton regularly speaks and writes about the role of science, education, and dietary change in reducing cruelty and promoting compassion toward animals.

Legal cases in the US

The founder and executive director of the Center for Animal Law Studies at the Lewis & Clark Law School in the United States, Pamela Frasch, will also speak at the symposium.

Frasch is the dean of the animal law programme at the law school, and is co-author of Animal Law, Cases and Materials. Previously she served as general counsel for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

In 1996, Frasch created the ALDF’s criminal justice programme, which has assisted law enforcement officials and animal advocates in investigating and prosecuting thousands of animal abuse and neglect cases nationwide.

Frasch is also the principal author of Oregon’s first felony anti-cruelty law.

Changing behaviour throughout the trade chain

A key speaker at AfA 2019 will be the Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Grace Ge Gabriel, who will talk about the power of law in combating wildlife crime.

Ge Gabriel says that, in order to protect species, “we have to change people’s behaviour at every link on the trade chain”.

After documenting the rescue of nine Asiatic black bears from years of torture on bear bile farms, Ge Gabriel left her job in television, returned to her native China, and commited herself to protecting wildlife. She has been the driving force behind the IFAW in China for more than two decades.

Ge Gabriel established China’s first raptor rescue centre, initiated a global campaign to protect Tibetan antelopes on the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau, engaged communities to protect the habitat of China’s last population of Asian elephants, and helped to develop China’s first animal welfare law.

Her holistic and precautionary approach of working closely with practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to encourage the use of plant-based alternatives has earned her the respect of TCM practitioners in China and internationally.

The IFAW’s “Mom I Have Teeth” initiative sensitised Chinese people to the relationship between the ivory trade and elephant killing and reached hundreds of millions of people.

Ge Gabriel says, however, that awareness-raising campaigns can erase ignorance, but cannot stop greed.

“The only way to stop criminals who profit from the grey markets that provide laundering opportunities, create enforcement challenges, and confuse consumers is by making ivory trade illegal in all circumstances.

“Sustained behaviour change can only be achieved when ivory possession becomes socially unacceptable.”

Building a consensus

Paul Littlefair from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) will talk about building a consensus on animal protection law in China, “bringing the public with us”.

Littlefair is a graduate in Chinese and collaborated with leading Chinese policy advisers and academics to draft a “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of the PRC”. Although the law remains a draft, the text has entered the public domain, stimulating discussion within China, and galvanising broad support for animal protection law.

RSPCA International works with governments, academic institutions, and NGOs in Europe, Africa, and Asia to promote animal welfare legislation, education, and the welfare of companion, farm, laboratory, and wild animals.

A red panda*.

Other key speakers at AfA 2019 will include Zhiping Liang, a senior arts and humanities researcher at the China Arts Research Institute, and Ping Mang, a professor at the College of Chinese Culture in Beijing who is one of the most prolific writers about animal protection in China.

In response to animal welfare problems in Chinese zoos and aquariums, Mang founded China Zoo Watch, which, over the past 15 years, has produced animal welfare reports, investigated abuse cases, and worked to improve the well-being of captive animals in China.

Mang was one of the first Chinese academics to question the legality and adverse social impact of bear farming, efforts to introduce Spanish bullfighting into China, animal performance in zoos, and other animal exploitation.

Other speakers will include the Singaporean member of parliament Louis Ng, who will talk about engaging politicians and government in law enforcement. Ng is the founder and chief executive of ACRES, a Singapore-based charity advocating for an end to animal cruelty in Asia.

The co -founder of the Indonesian Wildlife Rescue Centre Network and the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, Femke den Haas, will speak about improving animal welfare in a country where animal protection legislation is lacking.

Elvyra Aprillia from International Animal Rescue, Indonesia, will talk about combatting wildlife crime in her country and building judicial capacity through in-house training workshops.

Prakash Adhikari from the Agriculture and Forestry University in Nepal will tell delegates about the legal status of animal welfare in his country and Hari Prasad Joshi will share information about Animal Nepal’s role in developing the world’s first national animal welfare policy.

Hu Chunmei  from Freedom for Animal Actors will talk about legal advocacy for performing animals, Dave Neal from the Animals Asia Foundation will speak about ending cruelty to elephants in Vietnam, and Catur Yuono Parasetyo from International Animal Rescue Indonesia will talk about taking a multi-stakeholder approach to reducing potential human-orangutan conflict in West Kalimantan on Borneo.

There will be a working group on Day 2 devoted to discussion about orangutan protection.

Bringing about lasting change

The renowned activist Jill Robinson, who founded the Animals Asia Foundation in 1998, will talk about “Harmony in our Home – Protecting Wildlife and Helping Communities in China”.

With the support of local governments, Robinson and her team established two bear rescue centres – one in Chengdu, China, and one in Hanoi, Vietnam – to provide rehabilitation and life-long care for more than six hundred victims of the bear bile industry.

Robinson’s philosophy is to work with local officials and the community to bring about positive and lasting change for animals.

She pioneered animal-assisted therapy in Asia in 1991 when she created the Dr Dog programme, which now runs in numerous countries and brightens the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Registered therapy dogs are taken to hospitals, orphanages, schools, centres for the disabled, and homes for the elderly.

Many of the dogs in the programme are mixed-breed, Robinson points out. “This helps to spread the message that it’s not just expensive pedigree dogs that deserve our respect.”

Laying the groundwork

Bernie Unti, who is a senior policy adviser at the Humane Society of the United States, will give a presentation entitled “Setting the Stage: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Legal Protection of Animals”.

He will focus on social and cultural contexts, the mobilisation of resources, and other factors that have helped to lay the groundwork for animal protection laws.

Unti will trace the process and achievement of such laws, with an emphasis on several paradigmatic examples from the American experience.

Laboratory animals

Issues relating to animals used in laboratory testing will be tackled by Deming Sun, who is a member of the Ethics and Animal Welfare Committee of the International Council for Laboratory Animal Science (ICLAS). Sun is also the chairman of the Laboratory Animal Welfare and Ethics Committee of  the Chinese Association for Laboratory Animal Science and several other specialised committees. He will talk about ethic, animal welfare, national standards in Chinese laboratories, and breakthroughs in his field that have occurred in China.

Gao Lihong from the Central China University of Economics and Law will also be at the Dalian symposium and will speak about the extent of protection for animals in laboratories under China’s existing laws and regulations and will examine options for future legal actions.

Hong Kong, Thailand, Brazil, India, and Serbia

Amanda Whitfort, who teaches Criminal Litigation and Animal Law at the University of Hong Kong’s Law Faculty, will give a presentation about using laws creatively to protect animals.

Based on Whitfort’s research, the Hong Kong government passed laws to outlaw puppy mills and introduced a policy supporting Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programmes for feral dog populations. Whitfort ‘s current research project is focused on wildlife trafficking in Asia.

Whitfort will also moderate a panel about animal law training and lawmaking at which Roger Lohanan from the Thai Animal Guardians Association will talk about the first animal welfare law in Thailand.

Carolina Maciel from the HSI will talk about advancing animal protection via legislation in Brazil.

Panelists will also talk about rabies control in India, building a global animal protection movement, and animals in disasters. Ivan Kurajov from the Society for the Protection of Animals in Serbia will talk about fighting animal cruelty on national and local levels in developing countries.

Edie Bowles from Advocates for Animals will talk about using laws to tackle the donkey skin trade.

Successes in Dalian

Another of the speakers this year will be the deputy director of the Urban Animal Management Office in Dalian, Tianyi Deng, who will tell delegates about his team’s successes and challenges. Most of the 230,000 pet dogs in Dalian are registered and vaccinated and the animal shelter run by the Dalian police can now house 1,500 dogs. It is the biggest animal centre in China.

There are more than three thousand separate national and regional measures relating to animals in force in China but, under those regulations, animals are regarded as commodities and resources.

“The emphasis is on how to best utilise animals, not to protect them,” Hongmei Yu said.

China lacks comprehensive, protective legislation about eating animals who are kept as pets.

There has been a big international backlash against the annual dog-meat festival that is held in June in Yulin in the Guangxi autonomous region in southern China. It is estimated that, during the ten-day festival, between 10,000 and 15,000 dogs are killed and consumed.

In 2015 and 2016, global celebrities rallied tens of millions of people from all over the world on social media platforms to petition for an end to the festival.

The Yulin authorities now keep their distance from the festival, but the event has yet to be banned.

One of the organisations that calls for an end to the Yulin festival and the dog-meat trade is the Beijing Capital Animal Welfare Association (CAWA). The organisation’s founder and honorary director, Xiaona Qin, will be speaking at AfA 2019.

Xiaona Qin is a senior reporter at Beijing TV and on the board of the China Medical Foundation. She led the nationwide campaign against Canada’s attempt to market seal meat to China and was in the forefront of the battles to prevent Australia from selling kangaroo meat to China, defeat plans to build a Spanish bullfighting stadium in Beijing and open Asia’s biggest hunting ground in Huairou, and block America’s attempt to introduce rodeo to China.

Slaughterhouse shut down

In June this year, Vshine collaborated with law enforcement officials in Dalian in the rescue of seven dogs in an illegal slaughterhouse in the suburbs of the city after a tip-off from an outraged citizen.

“The city operates a zero-tolerance approach to the dog meat trade,” said Dezhi Yu from Vshine. “The slaughterhouse had only recently been opened by a man who lives outside the city.”

Seven dogs – mostly German shepherds and golden retrievers, along with a Rottweiler – were found alive at the slaughterhouse when police and activists arrived.

The slaughterhouse operator surrendered the dogs to Vshine.

One of the dogs was wearing a pet collar, but it is suspected that the others could have been former guard or farm dogs who were either stolen or purchased from their owners.

The dogs were scared, injured, and psychologically exhausted,” Dezhi Yu said. “They had skin problems, and open wounds inflicted on them by the dog thieves in the course of their capture.”

Dezhi Yu was quoted by the Humane Society International (HSI) as saying: “We are very proud that in Dalian you will rarely find a restaurant serving dog meat, and generally citizens here care very much about their dogs and cats.

“When we received a call about this new slaughterhouse, we and the law enforcement officers acted immediately to shut it down. Whenever anyone dares to open such a cruel business here, they are very quickly reported and the police take immediate action.

“If all police across China were as active as the Dalian police, we could crack down on the cruel dog and cat meat trade almost overnight.”

Dogs rescued from a Dalian slaughterhouse.

According to the HIS, thirty million dogs are killed for meat every year in Asia. An estimated ten million of them are killed in China.

Most people in China don’t eat dogs, the HIS says. “Dog meat is only eaten infrequently by less than 20 percent of the Chinese population.”

A 2017 survey revealed that, even in Yulin, 72 percent of people don’t regularly eat dog meat, despite efforts by dog-meat traders to promote it.

A nationwide survey conducted in 2016 by the Chinese polling company Horizon, and commissioned by the China Animal Welfare Association in collaboration with the HSI and Avaaz, found that 64 percent of Chinese citizens wanted to see an end to the Yulin festival. Of those questioned, 51.7 percent said the dog-meat trade should be completely banned, and 69.5 percent said they had never eaten dog meat.

Dog thieves snatch dogs and cats from the streets and steal them from back yards, the HSI says.

“Dogs and cats are typically bludgeoned to death in front of each other, put in the de-hairing machine to remove fur, and the carcass blow-torched for sale to markets.

“Dog slaughter continues to occur in public places, exposing young children to horrendous brutality and potentially desensitising China’s younger generations.”

Arkaprava Bhar from the HSI in India will be at AfA 2019 and will talk about using existing legislation to end the dog-meat trade in his country.

Kelly O’Meara, who is vice -president of the HSI’s Companion Animal and Engagement department, will also be speaking at AfA 2019. O’Meara leads the HSI’s campaign to end the dog-meat trade in four Asian countries and formulates humane programmes to address street dog and cat population management issues around the globe.

Forging lasting partnerships

AfA symposium attendees will not only be gathering in plenary sessions. There will also be workshops during which delegates will be able to share experiences, exchange ideas, and propose future collaboration.

In a working group about wildlife trafficking and trade, delegates will discuss breaking the supply chain to stop the illegal bird trade. The issue of exotic pet ownership will be tackled and participants will discuss whether current legislation addresses the issue.

“The conference provides a unique opportunity for participants to learn about the challenges that are unique to the hosting country, to communicate with key experts, and learn from attendees who bring fresh ideas and practical experience.” said Hongmei Yu. “Lasting partnerships have been forged.”

Hongmei Yu added: “While we encourage efforts to prosecute and penalise animal abusers by creatively using laws unrelated to animal protection in countries that lack anti-cruelty legislation, animal protection and anti-cruelty laws are essential to a modern society.”

Wolf Gordon Clifton says that the greatest impact of each AfA conference is the connections it fosters between attendees.

“Animal advocates are very often isolated from one another, whether by geographic distance, specialisation within a particular issue, or simply because they are too overworked and overwhelmed to network,” Clifton said.

“The Asia for Animals conferences provide a rare opportunity for people from many different countries, working in widely diverse fields of animal protection, to interact, learn from one another, and collaborate.”

AfA is particularly uplifting for animal advocates in its host country, Clifton says, and it brings international attention to local animal protection issues.

“The 2015 AfA in Kuching, Borneo, helped to spotlight the death and displacement of the island’s wild animals as a result of forest clearing for cropland. The 2017 AfA in Kathmandu, Nepal, brought attention to local issues, including wildlife endangerment and animal sacrifice.

“It is hoped that the 2019 AfA in Dalian will help motivate the enactment of robust animal welfare legislation, which unfortunately does not yet exist in mainland China.”

The first Asia for Animals conference took place in the Philippines in 2001. It is now the biggest forum bringing together people working to protect animals in Asia.


* Red pandas are unrelated to giant pandas. They are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species. The population has decreased by 50 percent over the past 18 years, and the decline is expected to worsen.

Estimated numbers of red pandas in the wild vary from 2,500 to 10,000. It is an elusive animal, and so very difficult to spot.