BEIJING - China tiger breeders called for the lifting of a ban on selling tiger parts on Thursday, saying the trade in tiger medicines used to treat rheumatism and loss of sexual appetite would help preserve the endangered species.
China banned the sale of tiger bones and hides in 1993, which virtually wiped out the market for traditional medicines made from tigers in what was once the world's largest consumer of such goods.
Wang Ligang, general manager of the Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park, and Zhou Weisen, director of the Guilin Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Garden, said the ban had not stopped the decline in tiger numbers and that patients were suffering from less choices in medical treatments.
"If legal channels exist and patients can legally get their wanted materials of tiger bone in their medicine, the motivations to purchase tiger bones from illegal sources can be greatly minimised," Wang said.
Tiger bones are used to treat everything from skin disease and convulsions to laziness, malaria and rheumatism. Tiger penis is is believed by many to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
The breeders said their operations had made heavy losses since the ban, despite opening the parks to tourists.
Guilin Xiongsen, whose tiger population had reached 1,300, was losing 35 million yuan (US$4.53 million) a year, Zhou said.
"If we cannot solve this problem immediately, the fate of over 1,000 tigers is a major concern."
China's tiger breeding centres have come under fire from wildlife groups who say they undermine conservation and illegally sell tiger meat and medical elixirs containing tiger body parts.
Zhou denied that the onsite restaurant at Guilin Xiongsen sold tiger meat to customers, after a reporter said staff had presented him with a meat dish which they said was tiger.
"This could not have happened... It's possibly an employee quality issue," Zhou said.
Wildlife groups fear Chinese officials will succumb to pressure from businessmen seeking to revive the trade in tiger parts.
"It would be like a death signal for the conservation of wild tigers," WWF UK spokesman Tshering Lama told Reuters.
She said there should be a moratorium on captive tiger breeding, which had not produced tigers that could fend for themselves in the wild, and was too costly to produce cheap enough medicines to compete with poachers' offerings. Environmentalists believe there are only 5,000 to 7,000 tigers remaining in the wild, with the largest number in India.
Story Date: 30/3/2007