By Channel 4 News
20 February 2010
Channel 4 News has obtained exclusive mobile phone video from Malaysia showing the arrogance of one criminal gang of tiger poachers, writes Julian Rush.
Tiger poachers are rarely seen, and rarely caught. The criminal gangs behind the illegal trade in tiger parts for black market Chinese traditional medicine like to keep their secrets.
But in extraordinary footage given to Channel 4 News anonymously, they reveal themselves to be callous, arrogant and contemptuous of the law.
Shot on a mobile phone in northern Malaysia towards the end of last year, the video shows four young men gloating and laughing over the carcass of a dead tiger. They stand to make just a few hundred dollars from the animal.
“It’s the middle men who make the money,” says Sarah Christie who heads the tiger conservation programmes at the Zoological Society of London and who has spent years studying the trade in tiger parts, “the poachers get very little.”
Those middle men who trade the tiger carcass on into China will be the ones who make the real profit; that can run into thousands of dollars.
The bones are ground up to make pills or potions to treat rheumatism. The meat is often sold to restaurants that specialise in wild animals; it is believed to have strength-giving properties. The skin is valuable too. Official Chinese medicine practitioners no longer use tiger parts, but a thriving black market remains.
Officially too, China has joined international efforts to save the tiger. Between three and four thousand remain in the wild, across south east Asia, India, China and Russia.
This is the Chinese Year of the Tiger, and last month in a meeting in Thailand, China signed up to a pledge to double the number of tigers in the wild by the next one, in 2022.
But at the same time, the Chinese government is considering a proposal to legalise the trade in tiger parts from tiger farms in China. The farm owners have been lobbying hard, but conservationists say any legalised trade will only encourage more poaching.
In Malaysia too, where the video was shot, the government has adopted a widely-praised Tiger Action Plan. They have plans to preserve the tiger’s forest habitat, to extend it even, and they too want to double the numbers in their country, from 500 to 1000, still only a third of the size of the tiger population in the 1950s.
But habitat destruction, driven by the desire of the country’s people to develop, and limited resources and local corruption makes for a different reality.
For the men in the mobile phone video, their cockiness may be their undoing; their arrogance, incriminating evidence for the Malaysian police. But they are small fry.
The answer, says Sarah Christie from ZSL “is to take out the dealers and for that you really need national and international efforts to shut down the trade. Reducing demand within China is absolutely crucial.”