China says it has 6,000 captive tigers

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China says it has 6,000 captive tigers

(AFP) – 2.8.2010

BEIJING — China said Tuesday it had nearly 6,000 tigers in captivity and could breed 1,000 more every year, amid international controversy over the benefits of farming the endangered species.

The numbers were announced by Yin Hong, vice head of the State Forestry Administration, according to a spokesman at the agency who refused to be named.

“There are close to 6,000 tigers that have been artifically bred and raised in China,” the official China News Service quoted Yin saying.

“These tigers can breed over 1,000 baby tigers every year.”

Yin’s comments came as China prepares to ring in the Year of the Tiger, which begins February 14, amid mounting worldwide concern over dwindling numbers of the great cats.

Yin said there were just 50 to 60 wild tigers left in China. Conservation groups have said recently fewer than 50 still roam the country.

There are four varieties of wild tigers in China, and one of them — the South China tiger — has not been spotted in the wild since the late 1970s. In the 1950s, there were around 4,000 of the subspecies.

Degradation of the animal’s habitat and poaching of the tiger and its prey are blamed for its rapid disappearance.

In the 1980s, China set up tiger farms to try and preserve the big cats, intending to release some into the wild.

But experts warn it will be difficult for captive tigers to re-adapt to the wild, and the sheer number of the endangered animals kept in farms now poses a challenge.

“The government now realises it’s a problem but they haven’t figured out how to deal with the existing tigers yet,” Xie Yan, director of the China programme for the Wildlife Conservation Society, told AFP.

The existence of tiger farms in China and other countries has sparked international controversy.

In July, Keshav Varma, leader of the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative, called for tiger farming to be phased out, saying there was a danger this could hasten the extinction of the endangered species.

“Would it create new markets and an even higher demand for wild tiger products — for those who want a luxury good — the ‘real thing?'” he asked.

Xie said farms in China make little money, apart from tourists, and some are pushing for a 1993 ban on the trade in tiger parts and related products to be reversed so they can profit from the animals once they die.

Experts, however, say this would encourage poaching.

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