By MICHAEL CASEY, AP Environmental Writer
The critically endangered Sumatran tiger will become extinct unless Indonesia takes swift action to clamp down on the illegal sale of the big cats’ body parts across the Southeast Asian country, conservationists say.
TRAFFIC, a British-based international wildlife trade monitoring network, said it found tiger bones, claws, skins and whiskers being sold openly in eight cities on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in 2006, despite tough laws banning such trade.
The group estimated that 23 tigers had been killed to supply the parts found for sale in souvenir, Chinese medicine and jewelry stores. Prices ranged from the equivalent of $14 for a tiger claw to about $52.50 per pound of tiger bones.
“Surveys continue to show that Sumatran tigers are being sold body part by body part into extinction,” said a statement issued by Susan Lieberman, director of the species program for the conservation group WWF, which contributed to the report.
The Sumatran tiger, or Panthera tigris sumatrae, is the world’s most critically endangered tiger subspecies ? WWF estimates fewer than 400 remain in the wild in comparison to about 1,000 in the 1970s. The tigers’ diminishing population is largely blamed on poaching and the destruction of their forest habitat for palm oil and wood pulp plantations.
“This is an enforcement crisis,” Lieberman’s statement said, adding that Indonesia needs to demonstrate it can cope with the crisis or ask for help from the international community.
Indonesia launched a 10-year plan to protect the Sumatran tiger in December last year. But conservationists complain that Indonesian commitments to preserving wildlife are rarely supported by enforcement measures.
“There is no effective enforcement on the ground,” said Chris Shepherd, senior program officer for TRAFFIC, who has been tracking the Indonesian tiger trade for nearly 15 years. “It boils down to lack of resources. Wildlife crime isn’t viewed as a high priority in Indonesia or anywhere in Southeast Asia.”
Tonny Soehartono, the country’s director for biodiversity conservation in the Ministry of Forestry, said efforts were being made to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. He did not elaborate.
“I believe we have made significant progress,” he said.
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