Bengal tigers face extinction after China rejects trade curbs
India's tiny population of wild tigers could be pushed to extinction after China rejected a call to curb the trade of tiger products.
By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
Published: 6:16PM BST 03 Sep 2009
The biggest threat to the 1,300 Bengal tigers left in the wild is a rampant demand from China for tiger skins, penises, teeth, whiskers and bones. Many of the parts are ground up and drunk as a libido-enhancing tonic.
Although China has bred around 4,000 tigers in farms across the country, the bodies of wild tigers are more highly prized.
Tiger poaching and the smuggling of skins is now the second most common crime along the Indo-China border after the trade of narcotics.
According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), 66 tigers were lost in 2009, with one third being shot by poachers. Two decades ago, there were as many as 15,000 tigers roaming wild in India.
Jairam Ramesh, the 55-year-old Indian Environment minister, put tigers at the top of the agenda during a four-day trip to China last week.
"We need to intensify efforts with the Chinese so that international tiger trade networks are smashed," he said. "Poaching in India is directly linked to international trade into China." With the Chinese Year of the Tiger falling in 2010, he asked officials to "actively liaise" with Nepal over enforcement.
Mr Ramesh was flanked by officials from Project Tiger and by wildlife enforcement officers, but failed to convince the Chinese to halt the trade in tiger parts, which often arrive through conduits in Nepal and Burma.
Instead, the Chinese countered that India was not doing enough to stop the poaching of Chiru, a Tibetan antelope whose wool is used in banned shahtoosh shawls. "They feel the same about Tibetan antelopes as we feel about tigers,'' said Mr Ramesh. The Chinese also denied that the existence of tiger farms was creating a demand for wild tiger products.
Meanwhile, details emerged of a document published by the Chinese State Forestry Administration which sanctions the trade and use of tiger and leopard skins "and their parts". The document dates from 2007, but has been hushed up until now, with almost every reference erased from the internet.
Traffic, a part of the World Wildlife Fund, said the document could be interpreted by tiger farmers as a license to make tonics from other tiger parts.