Beijing (AFP) - China's legislature voted on Thursday to approve a legal measure that will jail people caught eating rare wild animals, state media reported.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) approved a new interpretation of China's Criminal Law at a bimonthly session, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The NPC, China's top legislature, met in full session in March. However the NPC Standing Committee has the authority to pass legislation and make legal changes on its own.
The report said that China's government deems 420 species of wild animals as rare or endangered.
The animals include giant pandas, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins, the report said.
Under the legal interpretation passed Thursday, people who eat animals on the list or purchase them for other purposes will be considered in violation of the Criminal Law.
Depending on the crime, violators could face more than 10 years in jail, the report added.
The killing of endangered animals and the use of their body parts -- such as rhino horns and shark fins -- in traditional medicine and as food delicacies has been identified as a global menace.
Demand from increasingly wealthy Asian consumers has been blamed for helping to fuel the trade.
In February, the global environmental watchdog International Union for Conservation of Nature, based in Switzerland, identified more than 11,000 threatened animal species, many of which are increasingly the object of global trafficking.
The new interpretation of China's law clarifies the role of people who purchase illegally hunted animals, the report added.
"It regulates that knowingly buying any wild animals that are prey of illegal hunting... will face a maximum three-year imprisonment," Xinhua said.
The report said that up to now, many people who bought such wild animals had avoided any punishment.
"In fact, buyers are a major motivator of large-scale illegal hunting," Lang Sheng, deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, told reporters, according to Xinhua.
Xinhua said the interpretation of the Criminal Law by the NPC was the 10th since taking effect in 1997.
It said the law has been amended nine times.