A growing trend in China is garnering global backlash. Amidst growing worldwide support for animal rights, Chinese officials struggle to deal with a popular fashion trend of using live reptiles in charms. According to members of PETA, this practice has been going on since the 2008 Olympics. Baby turtles, lizards, and sometimes fish are caught and sealed in plastic bags. Often these bags are filled with colored water and decorative confetti before being attached to a bracelet. The animals are intentionally left alive so they can be seen dancing in these trinkets. They are left with just enough air to ensure their survival for at least a few days of use. Often after the buyers lose interest in these macabre trinkets, they are discarded whole without freeing the living creatures inside. Known as “living keychains,” the bracelets are often considered good luck. The black market has been making a killing off of locals and tourists alike. They frequently sell for as little as $1.25.

A minor technicality has been tying the hands of Chinese officials for over a decade. The creatures used are often Brazilian in origin and, as a result, are not subject to any legal restrictions in China. According to the director of the Capital Animal Welfare Association, an NGO that also tackles animal rights, China’s law only protects the native wildlife. This makes situations like this one difficult to handle because these wild creatures are not considered wildlife under the Wild Animal Protection Law. This would require the government to either start classifying all nondomesticated animals as wildlife despite the country of origin or destroying the illegal trade fueling this. Neither option would guarantee an end to this practice and both come with serious ramifications. For example, classifying foreign animals as wildlife under the Wild Animal Protection Law will likely create problems when dealing with invasive species that harm China’s native populations. Trying to crack down on the black market will require a lot of resources and could lead to retaliatory crime sprees.

Several petitions have formed online to try and combat this cruel practice, however. Slowly more attention is being brought to this situation. One petition has already garnered over 100,000 signatures. The petitions use no uncertain language, decrying this as “pure animal abuse.” The petitions have gained even the backing of Mary Peng, the co-founder of the International Center for Veterinary Services. It is still uncertain what if any action the Chinese government intends to take. To date, there has also been no official statement from the UN or other international entities regarding the circumstances. At the very least, the petitioners hope to raise enough attention to change the minds of would-be buyers. If the practice generates enough backlash, then fewer people will want to purchase the trinkets. This would be the most effective way of destroying the industry. At the very least, as many petitioners hope, growing awareness should encourage more buyers to take the time to release the animals after they are done.