The 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation was held in Delhi April 12-14 attended by all tiger range nations: India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos,Vietnam, China, Russia, Malaysia and Indonesia. This was a follow-up to the highly touted St. Petersburg Tiger Summit of 2011 wherein the stated goal was to double wild tiger populations by the next Year of the Tiger 2022. To great acclaim, worldwide tiger numbers were announced as rising to 3850, a significant increase since the last census. This was wonderful news indeed but in large part due to better census technology and greater areas surveyed, but also underscores the truth that wild tigers, if given protected habitat and left alone, will flourish.
In his inaugural address to the conference, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi told delegates the “conservation of the tiger is not a choice, it is an imperative,” and stressed that a major threat to tigers is the demand for their body parts and derivatives. The conference ended with a resolution calling for the highest levels of government to address demand for tiger body parts, but stopped short of addressing the supply of tiger parts from tiger farms in China and now Vietnam, which feed legal and illegal trade, both domestic and international, and perpetuate demand. Poaching of wild tigers is fueled by a thriving trade in China where tiger parts are used in traditional medicine and skins remain a status symbol. The big players in the game simply do not have the resolve to confront China on this. The Fund for the Tiger stands by its contention that farming tigers perpetuates the myth of the efficacy of tiger parts in traditional medicines thereby stimulating demand for wild tigers. To the true believer, wild will always be preferable. We signed an international petition signed by 24 non-governmental organizations that stated…“It is time for tiger range countries to unite in a commitment to end tiger farming and to end all domestic and international trade in parts and derivatives of tigers from captive facilities.”
Though it was acknowledged that tigers have disappeared from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam there was no meaningful discussion as to how or why this happened. Rather than a discussion on ‘Lessons Learned from the Disappearing Tigers of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam’, Cambodia actually chaired a discussion on the opportunities for re-introducing tigers from India into Cambodia. “The height of folly,” one respected tiger expert from Nepal wrote to me. Tigers are now virtually extinct in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. There is a black hole right in the heart of tiger range countries and an insatiable giant, China, looming to the east. So the great tiger reserves of India and Nepal remain, as they have for 25 years, shopping malls to satisfy a demand thousands of miles away. There is no demand for tiger products in South Asia, home of panthera tigris tigris, the Bengal tiger.
The increase in wild tiger numbers is certainly reason for cautious optimism and hope but not celebration. It’s a sad paradox that while part of the wildlife conservation community is patting itself on the back over the new worldwide tiger numbers, in the land where 70% of the world’s remaining wild tigers live, more tigers have been killed in the first 5 months of 2016 than in all of 2015.
An anti-poaching wildlife crime summit was held in Kathmandu the first week of February attended by all tiger range countries (India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Russia). India and Nepal were both praised as “tiger heavyweights leading the region, India excelling at recovering tiger numbers and Nepal at zero poaching.” In January, India reported a 30 percent jump in tiger numbers since 2010, up from 1706 to 2226 in a massive effort involving 9735 cameras while Nepal saw numbers rise almost two-thirds between 2009 and 2013. Its last reported poaching incident was in March 2012. It was gratifying to hear that community-based tiger conservation efforts have been successful. Our support is at Bardia and Chitwan in Nepal and at Bandhavgarh in India. Tikaram Adhikari, Director General of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, said initiatives to encourage communities to have a stake in tiger conservation were paying off. “Earlier, some villagers even protected poachers because they didn’t want tigers attacking them. We heard them out, built fences, focused on increasing tourism and gave them a big cut of the tourism revenues,” Adhikari said, “Now they know the benefits of protecting tigers and they want to help. The survival of the animal is a matter of prestige for them.” A WWF spokemen said, “We have to involve people on the ground -- volunteers and local law enforcement must have a stake in the process. Otherwise conservation is not sustainable. ?Hundreds of young volunteers act as unofficial guards for Nepal’s national parks, home to 198 tigers and 534 rhinos.
But there remained the proverbial “elephant in the room”. Tiger farming. A Washington Post investigative report in January reported finding tiger products, including Tiger Bone Wine, readily available in and near the tiger farms they visited. This is in “direct contravention of China’s own laws and a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 2007 declaration that tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts.” The Post’s conclusion: “Encouraged by the tiger farming industry, China’s wealthy are rediscovering a taste for tiger bone wine promoted as a treatment for rheumatism and impotence, as well as tiger-skin rugs and stuffed animals, sought after as status symbols among an elite obsessed with conspicuous consumption.” Yet, some major organizations in the world of wildlife conservation, those same players in the conspiracy of silence in 2010 at St. Petersburg, again did not want tiger farming to be part of the discussion for fear of alienating China. One leading spokesman even went so far as to praise Beijing for its efforts to save the wild cats from extinction.
Thanks to the dogged determination of Debby Banks of the Environmental Investigative Agency, The Wildlife Protection Society’s Nitin Desai, and others, this final communiqué was issued:
Threat stalks achievements:
• Poaching is fuelled by a thriving trade in China, where tiger parts are prized as status symbols and often used in traditional medicine;
• There is a culture among more and more wealthy people in China to own tiger parts, who mount tiger heads and decorate living rooms with rugs made from their pelts;
• Tiger farming in China encourages poaching by stimulating demand for tiger parts;
• One hundred tigers a year have been killed for the illegal trade since the turn of the century;
• Nepal reported 198 tigers in 2013, with the population of the elusive cats increasing by 64 percent in half a decade;
• Nepal has marked two years since the last reported case of a tiger killed by poachers in 2012;
• Nepal and India are among countries praised for their efforts to raise tiger numbers and curb poaching;
• India’s tiger population increased by nearly a third to 2,226 in four years, a survey showed last month.
China continues to be complicit in the decimation of the endangered animals of our planet. A November 7th story in the S.F. Chronicle documents their involvement in the killing of elephants in Africa: “Visits to Africa by high-level Chinese delegations, including a presidential trip, have been used to smuggle ivory, contributing to an explosion in poaching that has cut Tanzania’s elephant population in half over the last five years, according to a report by an environmental group released Thursday. In December (2013), a visit by a Chinese naval task force to the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam, created a surge in business for ivory traders, with one dealer boasting of making $50,000 in sales, the Environmental Investigative Agency said. A Chinese national was caught trying to enter the port with 81 illegal tusk intended for two mid-ranking Chinese naval officers.”
On the tiger front, China continues to breed tigers on farms, thousands of them, thereby fueling the illicit demand for a product declared illegal under international law in 1993 and perpetuating the myth of the efficacy of tiger products in traditional medicines. The conservation community was a bit stunned when earlier this year at a CITES [Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species] session in Geneva, China openly admitted that domestically they do ban trade in tiger bones but not skins, this in spite of a CITES statue that states…‘Tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.’ So a working group was set up to gather information from China and other countries that have tiger farms about regulations over the keeping and breeding of tigers, disposal of their body parts, stockpiles, and details of any domestic trade if allowed. China volunteered to chair this group with no objections. China? That is like asking the fox to investigate security issues in the chicken coop! Avinash Basker, WPSI’s chief legal advocate who attends these sessions, has responded to me on this…“The real solution lies in convincing China to end its domestic legal trade, and to phase out tiger farms. I guess our task at present, therefore, is to try to get the fox to stop eating chickens. That isn’t a proper analogy though, since unlike foxes who have to hunt to eat, China does not have to have tiger farms or allow a legal tiger trade!”
For over 20 years I have been writing about the threat to the wild tiger from traditional medicinal beliefs in China and the Far East. On January 5, 2014, a story appeared [forbes.com] titled “Chinese Health Nuts ‘Biggest Threat’ To India's Bengal Tigers”…
“Chinese demand for tiger body parts for traditional medicinal purposes has increased poaching in India by more than 15% in 2013. Traditional medicine in China has Indian poachers slaughtering Bengal Tigers in greater numbers and shipping their body parts up north for cold hard cash. Although the tiger population in India is actually on the rise, there is an alarming increase in poaching of the country’s big cats. Recent data released last week show that India lost approximately 42 tigers last year to poachers, up from 32 in 2012, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India. ‘Until the demand is addressed and stopped, tigers will go on being killed by poachers,’ Belinda Wright, head of the Wildlife Protection Society, told the South China Morning Post on Monday. ‘This issue of demand is something that can only be tackled by China,’ Wright said. Interpol says the trade in illegal wildlife products is worth some $12 billion a year. India is home to the world’s largest tiger population, making it a major source market for the illegal wild animal trade. The demand for wildlife comes from outside of India, with China being the go-to spot for tiger body parts. Poaching driven by the international illegal wildlife trade is the largest immediate threat to the remaining tiger population, the WWF says. Tiger parts are sold at Chinese medicine shops in China, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chinatowns in North America and Europe.”
This next story [theguardian.com] caught my eye on April 2, but I dismissed it as too horrific and disgusting for credible comment. I have now seen it referred to in the writings of others, so here goes…
“More than 10 tigers have been killed as ‘visual feasts’ in China to entertain officials and rich business people, state media reported. Police in the port city of Zhanjiang, in the southern province of Guangdong, seized a freshly slaughtered tiger and multiple tiger products in a raid this month, said the Nanfang Daily, the mouthpiece of the provincial Communist Party. Local officials and prominent business people gathered to watch the tigers being killed as ‘eye-openers’ to show off their social stature, it said. Most buyers of the meat and bones were business owners who would then give them to officials as gifts, the paper said. Tiger bones have long been an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine for a supposed capacity to strengthen the human body. While they have been removed from official ingredient lists, there is still demand.”
So health, wealth and prestige all conspire against the tiger in China.
The tiger conservation community was encouraged that at the recent Geneva conclave of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species [CITES], tiger issues were given considerable attention. As a signatory to CITES, China has signed on to the international ban on trade. Internally the skin trade is not banned but the bone trade is, though I have seen footage of underground caves with vats steeping hundreds of tigers’ bones to be made into wine. At one session the Chinese actually agreed to the inclusion of the term ‘internal trade’ in one article. And when a Chinese delegate made the startling admission that they banned bone but not skins, eyebrows were raised no doubt due to this CITES statute: “Tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.” Debbie Banks of the London-based Environmental Investigative Agency said “Given our investigative findings into the licensed trade in captive-bred tiger skins in China, we are especially delighted that domestic, as well as international, trade in parts and products of tigers is going to be subject to greater scrutiny.” It is too early to tell if any of this will make a dent in the armor surrounding the murky business of tigers in China. But for now, China continues to breed tigers on farms, thousands of them, thereby fueling the illicit demand for a product declared illegal under international law in 1993 and perpetuating the myth of the efficacy of tiger products in traditional medicines.
China continues to breed tigers on farms, thousands of them, thereby fueling the illicit demand for a product declared illegal under international law in 1993 and perpetuating the myth of the efficacy of tiger products in traditional medicines. Last Summer an international meeting on tiger conservation was held in Kunming, China. The “Kunming Consensus” emerged from this conclave in an effort to strengthen international co-operation on illegal trade. Unfortunately, the emphasis was still on “illicit” trade as if there should or could be “legal” trade. Some still argue that legal trade would help wild tigers. The Fund for The Tiger strongly endorses the following statement issued by the London-based Environmental Investigative Agency: “Can you imagine legalizing the very reason for which tigers continue to be slaughtered? China believes trade in the skins and parts of captive-bred tigers do not impact wild tigers and that it does not think encouraging businesses and consumers to trade in these products is a problem. The more the international community avoids openly and objectively discussing the huge “elephant in the room” of tiger conservation, the more time is wasted in failing to get straight answers from China. [At the St. Petersburg Global Tiger Summit in 2011, in the interest of “consensus”, extraordinary pressure was put on tiger range country representatives and non-governmental organizations not to mention the issue of tiger farming for fear of upsetting the Chinese] Is it really so problematic to call it as we see it? Captive bred tigers in China have no conservation or education value and are being bred for trade in their parts and products. At the highest levels, the Government of China must take control of this situation, put an immediate stop to breeding more tigers in captivity, declare and enforce a complete ban on all trade of parts and products from captive tigers, and ensure that all stockpiles of tiger parts and products are destroyed.”
It’s a fair question to ask from time to time just how many tigers, panthera tigris, are left in the wild. Most informed guesstimates would agree on the number 3200. All in Asia, of course. There seems to be a relatively healthy population of the Malaysia tiger, the Sumatran tiger, the Siberian, or Amur tiger in the Russian Far East, and in Thailand and eastern Myanmar of the Indo-Chinese sub-species. Sadly the sub-species known as the Indo-Chinese tiger is now virtually extinct in the former Indochina. A tiger here, a tiger there, is about all that is left in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Certainly not a viable population. The only tigers left in China are a few of the Indo-Chinese sub-species in the SW and some Siberian tigers in the NE. The South China tiger is gone. China continues to breed tigers on farms, thousands of them, thereby fueling the illicit demand for a product declared illegal under international law in 1993 and perpetuating the myth of the efficacy of tiger products in traditional medicines. That leaves the South Asian tiger, panthera tigris tigris, commonly known as the Bengal tiger, found in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and western Myanmar. Sixty percent of the world’s wild tigers are living in the forests and jungles of India and Nepal and this is where we are trying to help.
As usual, there is good news and bad news. The tigers in India have increased in the past several years, up from 1400 to about 1700, but still less than what Indira Gandhi deemed unacceptable when she created Project Tiger forty years ago. Certain tiger reserves, like Bandhavgarh, continue to flourish, but dispersing tigers often end up in degraded habitat and become vulnerable to the poachers guns. 2013 is turning out to be a bad year for tigers. The Wildlife Protection Society of India has reported a huge surge in tiger poaching; and during the first six months of the year, have provided details that account for 29 tigers killed by poachers.
Nepal has just released results of a tiger survey that shows tiger numbers increasing from 120 in 2009 to 198 in 2013. The numbers may be a bit inflated, but Nepal is clearly doing a good job of preserving and protecting its tigers. However, on the roads heading north through the Himalayas into Tibet, on November 17, 2012, police arrested five smugglers with four sacks of tiger skins and bones, and in January of this year, 2 tiger skins and 53 kgs. of tiger bones were seized on the 11th and five tiger skins and seven bags of tiger parts were seized on the 12th. The vans and drivers were hired at Boudha, the Tibetan center in the Kathmandu Valley. When I first got involved in tiger conservation 20 years ago, I wrote that Nepal lies on the smuggling route to extinction for the tiger. Sadly, that remains true today.
Much of the news coming out of endangered species conservation work is often gloom and doom with occasional rays of hope. On November 12 I received an email from Belinda Wright of The Wildlife Protection Society of India [WPSI] that makes all the effort worthwhile. The admitted killer of the famed tigress of Bandhavgrh Tiger Reserve, Sita, was finally tracked down, arrested, and is currently in jail awaiting trial. In the mid-1990’s, Sita was arguably the most famous and photographed tigress in the world, starring in the 1997 National Geographic work of Nick Nichols. Then, after the monsoon of 1998, she disappeared. A year later tiger bones were found and on a tip from informants, four men were arrested and admitted to killing Sita in a steel trap. One of the four was Kailash Baheliya, a member of a notorious poaching community. While out on bail, Baheliya disappeared by playing dead, literally. Defense lawyers produced a death certificate for him, he was discharged from the case, and the other three were sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. Over the years, informants kept insisting that Kailash Baheliya was alive and was being seen from time to time in villages surrounding Bandhavgarh and in the town of Umaria. In September of this year his luck ran out. Kailash Baheliya was arrested September 15th for possessing gun powder, and using a false name, again released on bail. WPSI informers alerted local authorities and a joint team of Madhya Pradesh police, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve staff, and the WPSI ‘s M.C. Khare, rushed to the scene. Documents relating to the Sita poaching case were produced and the scoundrel was properly identified. He was immediately arrested again and a request for bail was rejected by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Umaria on October 23. So, 14 years after killing Sita, Kailash Baheliya sits in jail awaiting his just desserts.
Though the latest tiger census in India has shown an increase in the tiger population, 2012 is proving to be a difficult year for tiger conservation. Prices in the illegal trade in tiger parts have sky rocketed, and it is projected that more tigers will have died or have been killed by poachers in 2012 than in any of the previous five years. Up to the end of June 2012, the Poaching and Trade Investigative Project of the Wildlife Protection Society of India [WPSI] under the leadership of Belinda Wright has already recorded 50 tiger deaths, of which 18 are confirmed poaching and seizure cases. Of particular concern is the resurgence of professional tiger poaching gangs in central India.
As a result of arrests of key tiger and leopard poachers of Central India in 2009 and 2010 - on information provided by WPSI - organized poaching gangs reduced their operations in the region. By then the big buyers and masterminds of the trade, such as Sansar Chand and Shabbir Hasan Qureshi, had been put behind bars with WPSI assistance. In 2011, WPSI informants once again started reporting the movement of organized big cat poachers in central India. And, an alarming trend is now happening in that these poaching communities are now offering ‘fines’ more that the reward money against those providing information to authorities. The wildlife crime syndicates are clearly behind this.
What we now refer to as poaching gangs or communities, Baheliyas, Bawarias, etc. are tribal people who used to live in the forests and survived as hunters. With the passing of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) and the creation of Project Tiger Reserves in 1973 (for the first time making it illegal to kill a tiger) these tribal communities were marginalized to the periphery of the forest. Their centuries-old hunting skills are now being exploited by the wildlife crime syndicates. One might recall the incident several years ago when the WPSI intercepted an offer to the Baheliya community around Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve from Shabbir Qureshi of $4800 for the large dominant male tiger in Bandhavgarh- the tiger we all have come to know as B-2. The Forest Department was alerted by the WPSI, patrols were increased, and ultimately the ‘hit’ was called off.
The Fund For The Tiger normally does not get involved with domestic wildlife issues, but who among us were not horrified by the events that played out in the fields of Ohio on the night of October 18th when 18 Bengal tigers and many other exotic and endangered animals were gunned down. That there are more tigers in the U.S., more tigers in the State of Texas alone, than all the tigers left in the wild in Asia, is bizarre and just plain wrong. Whatever your belief, the tiger evolved or was placed by God in the forests and jungles of Asia, and that is where it belongs. In respectable zoos, of course, but only to engender awe of, and respect for, the wild. I reprint here, with permission, an excellent statement put out by the Global Tiger Initiative.
“On Tuesday, October 18, Terry Thompson, the owner of a wild animal preserve in Zanesville, Ohio, released dozens of exotic animals from their cages before killing himself. The released animals included Bengal tigers, which are endangered in the wild, as well as lions, mountain lions, and grizzly bears. The county police authorities had to put down those animals to ensure the safety of Zanesville citizens.
The fact that so many tigers, lions, wolves, grizzly bears, and even a baboon were at the mercy of a private individual, living in inhumane conditions, is distressing and alarming. It was not the fault of these majestic animals that they dispersed into the fields after years of cruel incarceration, as the pictures from Zanesville attest.
The Zanesville shooting is only the tip of the iceberg. While U.S. federal law prohibits interstate commerce in tigers, it is legal in states to own exotic and endangered animals: thousands of tigers and other rare animals are languishing in cages. According to WWF, eight states don’t have any laws pertaining to owning tigers, and 16 states allow private individuals to keep tigers, but require a state permit or registration. Why are private citizens allowed to own endangered animals in the U.S.? What are the implications of this for true conservation efforts spearheaded by the U.S.?
There is no evidence that these tigers, which are captive bred, enter the international black market in tiger parts. But the fact that they can be legally bought and sold in many states creates and reinforces negative perceptions in the tiger’s native countries. We already face the complex realities of “tiger farms” in China, Thailand, Vietnam, and other East Asian countries requesting them to phase out these farms. It is time for the U.S. to show leadership and phase out its private captive tiger population.
The U.S. has also emerged as a major importer of wildlife and wildlife parts. Private individuals in rich countries such as the United States are indulging their whims and fancies without understanding the global implication of their local demand. Only 3,200 tigers are left in the wild and every day a tiger is poached to feed the insatiable greed of some rich and unhealthy person in Asia and around the globe who believe in traditional medicine or want to eat tiger meat as a symbol of status. Tiger range countries are struggling to save whatever is left of their natural heritage and the U.S. must continue to support their efforts including by banning private possession of wild tigers within its borders.”
To continue the theme and thread of my last two letters, let me summarize the 2010 Tiger Summit. Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, hosted an International Tiger Forum November 21-24 in St. Petersburg, as high-level ministers and heads of state of 13 tiger-range countries [India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Russia] met to ratify and agree to a comprehensive and ambitious plan known as the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP). The GTRP seeks to double the current population of wild tigers by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022, and comes with a price tag estimated by the World Bank at $350 million. At the conference, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made this statement…“Every country should implement stronger laws and regulations and vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products.” All trade- wild, domestic, or international, is banned by the international CITES treaty of 1993 and signed by the Chinese government.
A follow-up meeting of Tiger Range Countries (TRC) was held in Delhi at the end of March, 2011. A number of delegates reported seizures of tiger parts since St. Petersburg and the consignments were headed for China. Bangladesh asked China what action they were taking to stop the trade. Widely viewed as the first opportunity to monitor actual progress behind the promises, a senior member of China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) revealed a staggering level of complacency, raising serious doubts about the depth of the country’s commitment. The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency has written a personal letter to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to warn him that significant failings within a key state department in China are making a mockery of his pledge at St. Petersburg. From the EIA press release:
• China admitted it relies heavily on information provided by NGOs to monitor the illegal trade in tiger skin, bone and derivatives, instead of proactively generating intelligence on the trade itself.
•The delegate responsible for law enforcement claimed to be unaware of any seizures, arrests or prosecutions resulting from formal inspections of tiger farms and markets between August and December 2010, further implying a poor grasp of intelligence on the trade.
• China appears to have gone ahead with a 2007 scheme to register, label and sell skins of ‘legal origin’, including those of farmed tigers, despite earlier statements claiming they would not re-open domestic trade in tigers parts.
In her letter to Wen Jiabao, Debbie Banks, EIA Head of Tiger Campaign, warns the Prime Minister that a lack of urgency and conflicting policies are gravely undermining China’s efforts and that the time is long overdue for Wen Jiabao to send a single and definitive message to the Chinese public and tiger farmers, confirming a policy of zero tolerance regarding the illegal trade in tiger parts and forbidding all trade in tigers, including those from farmed tigers.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hosted an International Tiger Forum November 21-24 in St. Petersburg as high level ministers and heads of state of 13 tiger range countries [India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Russia] met to ratify and agree to a comprehensive and ambitious plan known as the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP). The GTRP seeks to double the current population of wild tigers by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022 and comes with a price tag estimated by the World Bank at 350 million dollars. The summit has generated a great deal of publicity about the plight of the tiger and is the first such high level international meeting on behalf of an endangered species. However, in the interest of achieving a signed consensus agreement on the GTRP, it was agreed that the controversial issue of tiger farms would not be discussed or even whispered. This can be interpreted as either a tragic loss of opportunity or a brilliant strategy. At the conference, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made this statement…“Every country should implement stronger laws and regulations and vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products.” It is certainly a plus for the tiger that the Premier of China is arguing for stronger laws to combat poaching, trade and snuggling. If Premier Wen Jiabao is to be taken literally and trade is to be roundly condemned then what is the point of farming tigers? Farming tigers perpetuates the belief in the efficacy of tiger products thereby fueling demand and trade. A respected Chinese scholar posted this on the blog china.org November 25…“But absolutely the most unacceptable thing in today’s materialistic and money-mad society is that tigers have followed wild bears, crocodiles and foxes into farms, to be raised like pigs and turned into an industry.”
Consensus being achieved in St. Petersburg, it’s time to take off the gloves, address the issue of tiger farms head on, and, as Steven Galster of the FREELAND Foundation wrote in a great editorial, “If tigers could speak, they would roar for action, not more words. Let the St. Petersburg Declaration be the last, and let’s start to put our money where the fangs are.”
The Year of the Tiger 2010 is being celebrated with conference after conference expressing legitimate concern over the plight of the tiger and what to do to stem the tide of extinction. Last Fall Kathmandu hosted a Tiger Summit. Earlier this year there was a regional conference in Thailand. A conference of tiger range states (India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Russia) met in Bali July 12-15 and “expressed their commitment to do everything possible to effectively manage, preserve, protect and enhance habitats of tigers.” They also pledged “to work collaboratively to eradicate poaching, smuggling and illegal trade of tigers, their body parts and derivatives.” In August, Nepal will host a meeting of ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to discuss the issue. All of this is in preparation for a Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, September 15-18. Commitments to double the tiger populations by the next Year of the Tiger are being made and vast sums of money are being talked about by tiger range governments, the big international players in tiger conservation, and The World Bank.
In the meantime, tigers continue to die. Wild tiger numbers, about 3000, are at their lowest since records began. In India alone, the Wildlife Protection Society of India has documented the deaths of 119 tigers in 2009 and 2010: 54 confirmed poaching cases and 65 of suspicious mortality. Wildlife crime syndicates continue to flourish in South Asia to satisfy a market thousands of miles away. One wonders how much of the vast sums of money discussed at these conferences will filter down to provide effective protection in the field and the hard hitting efforts needed to disrupt and shut down the wildlife crime networks.
In China, Vietnam, and other tiger countries in the Far East, tiger farms continue to operate and flourish. Thousands of tigers live in horrific conditions and breeding continues unabated. Tiger Bone Wine is openly sold at the farms. There is a strong movement to legalize domestic trade in tiger parts, banned in 1993. The argument that the opening of domestic trade will take the pressure off wild tigers is folly. Wildlife crime is too lucrative. The London-based Environmental Investigative Agency has documented an astounding increase in the value of skins and bones. And, to the true believer in tiger based medicines, wild will always be preferable to farmed. To what possible end could these farms exist if not to fuel the demand, profit from the market, and perpetuate the myth of the efficacy of tiger products. One wonders how much of the vast sums of money discussed at these conferences it would take to buy out these farms and SHUT THEM DOWN!
Give tigers enough land, prey species, protection, and they will flourish. Hopefully all the talk during the 2010 Year of The Tiger will assure the tiger’s survival until the next Year of The Tiger 2022.