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Clawing Out a Future for Tigers

Clawing out a future for wild tigers
By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-11 07:24

A top Chinese conservation official has refuted international criticism that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is contributing to the sharp decline of wild tigers.  Instead, the country is committed to global tiger conservation at the cost of its own culture, tradition and economic interests, said Yin Hong, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration.

"It is irresponsible to blame the previous practice of using tiger bones in TCM for the drastic reduction of global wild tiger species," said Yin, referring to comments from some tiger-breeding countries and international tiger conservation organizations.   China has outlawed the use, trade and sales of all tiger parts since 1993, ending hundreds of years of history in using tiger bones in traditional medicines.  "The TCM industry has lost up to 2.3 billion yuan ($338 million) because of this," she said.

"We should not directly link TCM with the drop in wild tigers as the use of tiger parts has been banned in the country since 1993," said Zhu Chunquan, conservation director of biodiversity of WWF China Program Office.  Zhu said it is the individual people's belief in tiger bone wine and other products that has driven the demand of the market in China and other Southeastern Asian countries.

Despite efforts to stop the use of tigers parts, demand in China for illegal tiger products is among the highest in the world, the WWF claimed.

Zhu earlier warned that wild tigers in the country are facing the danger of extinction in about three decades if the loss of habitats and illegal trade continue.

Believed to be the birthplace of tigers, China only has 50 to 60 wild tigers at present, Yin said, with South China tigers facing extinction, largely due to the loss of habitats and hunting.

Pressure is growing for a relaxation of the ban on trade in tiger products, particularly from the owners of tiger farms.   Around 9,000 tigers are raised in farms worldwide, of which China has about 6,000.  There are only an estimated 3,200 tigers left in the wild, and they face increasing threats including habitat loss, illegal trade and climate change.

The 14 tiger range countries are home to half of the world population, with less and less land being left to tigers.  Compared with early last century, the tiger's habitat has been reduced 96 percent and the wild species is down 97 percent.  There is hope though, as tiger range countries, conservation groups and organizations such as The World Bank gather in Russia in September to lay out an ambitious agenda for saving wild tigers at a special summit.  In the lead up to the summit, all 13 tiger range countries have committed to the goal of doubling tiger numbers in the wild by 2022 at the first Asian ministerial conference on tiger conservation in Hua Hin, Thailand.

"Tigers are being persecuted across their range – poisoned, trapped, snared, shot and squeezed out of their homes," said Mike Baltzer, leader of WWF's Tiger Initiative.  "But there is hope for them in this Year of the Tiger. There has never been such a committed, ambitious, high-level commitment from governments to double wild tiger numbers," he said.

The country is expecting to restore the presence of wild tiger species through more measures to improve wild tiger resources, monitoring their habitats and prey, Yin said.

The government has established more than 20 natural reserves where wild tigers might appear or live.  She added China will continue to crack down on the smuggling of tiger skins and the illegal use and trade of tiger parts.

Since 1999, China has investigated 55 cases related to the tiger and leopard trade.  Chinese Customs has confiscated 54 pieces of tiger skins and bones in 15 cases between 2002 and 2008, she said.

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-02/11/content_9459608.htm
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