DOHA, Qatar, March 22, 2010 (ENS) – Countries could begin treating illegal trade in tiger parts as seriously as they treat arms and drug trafficking under a deal reached today at the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.
The UK-brokered agreement, the result of negotiations between the European Union and the tiger range countries India and China, provides for increased intelligence sharing against criminal networks that smuggle big cat parts, and builds on recent training provided by the international police force INTERPOL.
Parties to the CITES treaty agreed to develop a database to help monitor the illegal trade in tiger, leopard and snow leopard parts.
Although all commercial tiger trade has been banned by CITES since 1987, wild tiger populations have dropped by about half since the ban took effect.
With just 3,200 tigers left in the wild, tiger conservation advocates warn that the words of the new agreement must be turned into actions.
"There have been many promises this week, but getting countries to actually use these new enforcement tactics will be the real test of the commitment to ending tiger trade, and saving the species," said Debbie Banks, senior campaigner at the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency, and chair of the Species Survival Network’s Big Cat Working Group.
"Time is running out for tigers and other big cats. Tiger range countries and consumer nations need to work together to reduce demand for their parts and stamp out the illegal tiger trade," said Avinash Basker, legal consultant to the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
"This proposal was a test for the effectiveness of CITES as an international conservation agreement and despite the compromise, progress was made," said Carlos Drews, director, Species Programme, WWF International. "But words alone will not save wild tigers as a global poaching epidemic empties Asia’s forests and CITES governments will need to live up to the commitments made today."
The agreement comes as fresh evidence of trade in tiger parts was presented to CITES delegates by an animal conservation organization based in Singapore.
A three-month undercover investigation by Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, ACRES, revealed that 59 out of 134 jewelry and antique shops visited in Singapore offered alleged tiger parts for sale. Evidence of the 59 shops selling alleged tiger parts was recorded on video.
The ACRES report released Friday in Doha shows that 159 alleged tiger claws, 303 alleged tiger teeth and 38 pieces of alleged tiger skin were found on sale during the investigation, which was conducted from December 2009 until February 2010.
The alleged tiger parts were claimed to originate from Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia.
Tiger parts are used for traditional medicine, jewelry, lucky charms and novelties. Pieces of tiger skin are made into amulets as religious lucky charms believed to bring authority, power and protection.
One shopkeeper told ACRES investigators the demand for tiger parts and the amount of tiger parts being stocked by the shops appeared to be higher over the Chinese New Year period in this Year of the Tiger.
ACRES investigators reported that 28 shopkeepers said an order for more tiger parts could be placed with them, with delivery times from one week to three months or more.
But only seven shopkeepers recognized that tigers are protected animals, that it is illegal to sell tiger parts, and that tiger parts are customs-controlled items.
Singapore has a law against the domestic sale, or offer for sale, of endangered species specimens that provides for a $10,000 fine or a year in prison per species offered for sale.
"It is important to note that anyone who advertises for sale any tiger parts contravenes the act, even if the products turn out to be not authentic. By making a claim that the product is from tigers, the dealer is potentially driving up the demand for tiger parts, which directly contravenes the spirit of CITES and the local legislation meant to enforce CITES," said Anbarasi Boopal, director of the ACRES Wildlife Crime Unit.
ACRES Executive Director Louis Ng said, "The investigation findings showed the presence of an illegal trade in alleged tiger parts in Singapore and that there is an immediate need for continued serious efforts to curb this illegal trade. The investigation findings and footage have been submitted to the AVA [The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore] and we look forward to working closely with the AVA."
Singapore has previously been recognized as playing a role in the trade of tiger products from neighboring countries such as Indonesia, for both domestic trade and international re-exports.
Dr. Lim Wee Kiak, Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC, said, "As long as there is demand, there will be supply. Legislation alone is insufficient to bring a complete halt to the illegal trading of endangered species and their parts. We must do more public education and awareness so demands for them can be curbed and supply will then terminate."
In Doha, government delegates supported an existing decision to ensure that tiger farms do not supply the illegal market for big cat products.
CITES Parties called for an urgent meeting of senior police and customs officers before a Head of State tiger summit to be held in Vladivostok, Russia later this year.
The Russian government, the global conservation organization WWF and the World Bank initiated the tiger summit, in which the heads of 13 states are expected to participate.
WWF estimates Russia's Khabarovsk and Primorye regions currently have 500 Amur tigers.
Russian Customs officers at the Vladivostok International Airport have gotten serious about detecting the smuggling of wildlife specimens. Since 2004, the Far Eastern Operative Customs has trained and placed into service 77 sniffing dogs.
On March 3, in advance of the CITES meeting in Doha, the sniffer dog divisions of Far Eastern Operative Customs and Vladivostok Customs together with WWF and the TRAFFIC wildlife monitoring network held a briefing for the media and demonstrated their work at the Vladivostok International Airport.
Customs officers told reporters that the dogs help to combat a new trend that has appeared in illegal wildlife trade – smuggling wildlife parts in small pieces hidden on the body or in clothing. In these cases, they said, only a specially trained dog can detect items hidden from customs control.
Moderator, International Tiger Coalition
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