Tiger in peril - as China's tiger farm lobby wants sale ban lifted
Apr 23, 2007 - 8:44:43 AM
Kathmandu, April 23 - India and Nepal are likely to be great jeopardy with the news that China's powerful tiger farm lobby is stepping up pressure on the government to lift its 14-year-old ban on the sale of tiger parts, wildlife experts have warned.
'Fifty years ago, China had the highest number of wild tigers,' says Susan Lieberman, director of WWF International's Global Species Programme. 'Today, the number has come down to about 20, which are increasingly moving towards the Russian forests in search of safety.'
Traditionally, China has been the biggest consumer of tiger bones, hunting down the big cats for their bones, which the Chinese believe have medicinal qualities.
Though the Chinese government banned the trade in tiger parts in 1993, wildlife experts say new illegal markets are opening in the communist republic with restaurants, boutiques and gift shops advertising tiger meat dishes, fur robes and even wines said to have been made by dipping tiger carcasses in rice wine.
In a bid to circumvent the ban, individuals with and without government funding began establishing tiger farms in China. Some tiger products available in China claim they used tigers that died of natural causes in the farms. Currently, over 100 tiger farms, which have nearly 5,000 captive tigers, have begun pressuring the government afresh to lift the ban.
This month, the Global Tiger Forum, an inter-government group comprising countries with tiger populations, met in Kathmandu to plan its strategies where an official from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China began lobbying for lifting the ban.
'There is considerable need for tiger bone to cure diseases like rheumatic arthritis,' says Jia Qian, the official. 'Legalisation of the use of farmed tiger bone may meet the market demand and significantly reduce illegal trade by cutting down its price.'
However, 30 organisations around the world, which have united under the International Tiger Coalition to oppose the lobbying, say tiger farming will boost poaching of the big cats since many consumers think the wild tiger's potency can't be found in the tame ones.
Between 1999 and 2005, nearly 650 kg of tiger and leopard bones were seized from China, India and Nepal.
Since both India and Nepal are not traditional consumers of tiger or leopard bone or skin, it is assumed that the caches were intended for China. This month, the smuggling of precious red sandalwood from India to China via Nepal exposed the existence of a well-organised international smuggling network with the security and customs officials of all three countries on its payroll.
'If China lifts the ban on tiger trade, Nepal and India's wildlife will be endangered,' says Lieberman.
'Instead of lifting the ban, the law enforcement agencies of countries sharing a border need to collaborate and share information to curb smuggling.'
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