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Publications archive - Biodiversity


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Healthy people - healthy wildlife

Proceedings of the second Australian Symposium on traditional medicine and wildlife conservation
Melbourne Australia, March 1999

The Wildlife Protection Act and Traditional Medicines

Dr David Kay
Assistant Secretary
Wildlife Australia
Environment Australia

The Federal Government has responsibility for the control of the import and export of wildlife and wildlife products. The Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982, which is administered by Environment Australia, controls the export of Australian wildlife and wildlife products, the import of most live animals and plants, and the import and export of all wildlife which is recognised internationally as endangered or threatened. The Act also provides the legislative basis for meeting Australia's responsibilities under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The Wildlife Protection Act is one of a number of laws, including health, quarantine and customs legislation, which apply to the import of traditional medicines.

CITES and the Wildlife Protection Act

The over-exploitation for trade of many wildlife species led to CITES being drawn up in 1973. CITES now has 145 parties, including Australia, which has been a party since 1976. The objective of CITES is to prevent international trade threatening species with extinction.

Each participating country is required to implement CITES by controlling the trade in species listed in the Appendices to the Convention. Each Appendix affords the listed species a certain level of protection, for example, Appendix 1, is the strictest level; Appendix 2 is less so. The closer to extinction a species is, the higher the level of protection afforded; for example, as tigers are close to extinction, their trade is strictly controlled.

CITES member countries meet approximately every two years to consider relevant issues and to amend the Appendices as necessary. These meetings are known as the Conference of the Parties. Any member country can nominate a species for listing; the nominated species does not have to be native to the nominating country(s). The Conference decides which Appendix a species should be listed on, and may refer a matter to one of its committees (Animals and Plants) for advice.

In Australia, CITES controls are put into effect through the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982. The Act is administered by Environment Australia and is enforced at Australia's border by the Australian Customs Service.

The Wildlife Protection Act controls both the export and import of CITES listed species (CITES Appendices are included in the Schedules to the Act) and the export of native Australian species.

Control of trade in wildlife subject to the Act is typically in the form of permits to export or import wildlife and wildlife products. Permits must be obtained from the country of export AND Environment Australia BEFORE entering Australia. Without the appropriate permits the product/s will be confiscated by Customs and it may not be possible to have them returned.

Controls apply to anyone wishing to import or export wildlife listed in the Schedules, including:

The Wildlife Protection Act and Traditional Medicines

In the three years from 1996 to 1998 over 3 000 traditional medicine items were seized by Customs on entering Australia. Of these, over 500 claimed to contain CITES-listed animal species, including some of the most highly endangered - tigers, bears, rhinoceros, leopard, cobra, turtle/tortoise. Many contained endangered plant species including ginseng, cactus, orchid and cycad.

The continued and uncontrolled use of endangered species in products such as traditional medicine has been the subject of particular concern among the signatory nations to CITES including those countries that have practised in traditional medicine for thousands of years, such as China and Japan.

CITES member countries have acted on this concern in recent years by agreeing unanimously to a number of resolutions urging countries to strengthen controls on products containing endangered species. At the most recent conference of CITES held in 1997, it was agreed that member countries should ensure that their national legislation effectively controls trade in:

Countries also agreed that:

Why is the Amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act necessary?

The Wildlife Protection Act prohibits the export and import and, in some cases, the possession of products containing an endangered species, unless they are accompanied by an export AND import permit.

However, in its current form, the legislation does not enable the Government to successfully identify the illegal import into Australia of many products that contain endangered species because forensic science is not currently able to provide the required level of certainty. Thus, despite the prohibition, imported traditional medicines containing endangered species remain available.

The proposed amendment will ensure that all products represented to contain an endangered species, such as tiger and rhino, are treated as if they do, in fact, contain the ingredient. It is not the intention of the amendment to prohibit the general use of images of wildlife as a marketing tool; for example, where a product obviously does not contain material from endangered species such as:

The amendment is being debated in Parliament; it has been passed by the Senate and is currently in the House of Representatives. The amendment is supported within Australia by a wide range of environmental and conservation groups and leaders of the traditional medicine community as shown by they’re support at the announcement of the amendment by the Minister in Sydney last year.

Other countries, including European Union nations, the United Kingdom and the USA, have already introduced similar measures.

In line with the above CITES resolutions, the Government is committed to working closely with the traditional medicine community to successfully implement this amendment, to highlight the plight of endangered species, and to promote the use of alternative substances in traditional medicines.

When the amendment comes into force, Environment Australia will be producing and distributing a booklet outlining the new requirements and how to meet them. Some background information on the amendment and current traditional medicine import requirements has been made available in the information pack provided today and Environment Australia staff here today are more than happy to provide further assistance.


The Government is committed to wildlife conservation internationally, as well as within Australia. The best way to achieve this laudable goal is for everyone - the traditional medicine industry and community and government to work together. Essentially, we are all seeking a win/win outcome for the traditional medicine industry to grow and prosper, and to protect and conserve endangered wildlife and give it a chance to prosper too.