13 Mar 2007
Gland, Switzerland – Any lifting or easing of the current Chinese ban in tiger trade is likely to be the death sentence for the endangered cat species, a new TRAFFIC report says.
The report, Taming the Tiger Trade, warns that Chinese business owners who stand to profit from the tiger trade are putting increasing pressure on the Chinese government to overturn the 1993 ban. This would allow domestic trade in captive-bred tiger parts for use in traditional medicine and for clothing to resume.
According to WWF and TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring programme of WWF and IUCN-the World Conservation Union) the Chinese ban has been essential to prevent the extinction of tigers by curbing demand in what was historically the world’s largest consumer in tiger parts.
In compliance with the resolutions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the ban has virtually eliminated the domestic market for tiger products in traditional medicines.
“In the early 1990s, we feared that Chinese demand for tiger parts would drive the tiger to extinction by the new millennium. The tiger survives today thanks in large part to China’s prompt, strict and committed action,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC.
“To overturn the ban and allow any trade in captive-bred tiger products would waste all the efforts that China has invested in saving wild tigers. It would be a catastrophe for tiger conservation.”
It is estimated that fewer than 7,000 tigers remain in the wild. Around 9,000 exist in captivity, the vast majority in the USA and China.
Measures to implement and enforce the Chinese trade ban have ranged from public education campaigns and promotion of effective substitutes for tiger medicines to severe punishment for law breakers, the report shows. As a result, undercover surveys by TRAFFIC found little tiger bone available in China. Less than 3 per cent of 663 medicine shops and dealers claimed to stock it, and most retailers were aware that tigers are protected and illegal to trade.
However, a TRAFFIC survey documented 17 instances of tiger bone wine for sale on Chinese auction websites, with one seller offering a lot of 5,000 bottles. And demand for big cat skins as status symbol clothing, particularly in China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region, is increasing, with about 3 per cent of Tibetans in major towns claiming to own tiger or leopard skin garments even though they knew it was illegal.
Investors in the growing number of large-scale captive-breeding “tiger farms” in China are pushing for legalizing trade of products from these facilities, which now house 4,000 tigers, the report adds.
“Allowing trade in tiger parts to resume, even if they are from captive-bred tigers, would inevitably lead to an increase in demand for such products,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.
“And a legal market in China could give poachers across Asia an avenue for ‘laundering’ tigers killed in the wild, especially as farmed and wild tiger products are indistinguishable in the marketplace.”
WWF and TRAFFIC call on the Chinese government to maintain its domestic trade ban; strengthen its efforts to enforce the law against the illegal trade in tigers and other Asian big cats, particularly of skins; impose a moratorium on all tiger breeding; destroy the stocks of tiger carcasses; and increase public awareness of the current trade ban.
For further information:
Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC International
Tel: +44 1223 279 074
Joanna Benn, Communications Manager
WWF Global Species Programme
Tel: +39 06 84 497 212