An international network that monitors the wildlife trade said Tuesday that it suspects China is facing domestic pressure to lift its ban on selling tiger parts. Lifting the ban would push the endangered species closer to extinction, the TRAFFIC monitoring network said in a new report.
Tiger skins are valuable and considered status symbols in areas such as Tibet, while bones and other parts of the animal are used in traditional medicines and as aphrodisiacs. There's even wine made with crushed tiger bone.
China banned trade in tiger parts in 1993, but TRAFFIC suspects pressure is growing on the government to lift the ban, especially for tigers bred in captivity.
"To overturn the ban and allow any trade in captive-bred tiger products would waste all the efforts invested in saving wild tigers. It would be a catastrophe for tiger conservation," said Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC, a monitoring program set up by World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union.
"The tiger survives today thanks in large part to China's prompt, strict and committed action," Broad said in a statement.
TRAFFIC, which is based in Gland, Switzerland, said it had evidence that investors in large-scale captive-breeding tiger farms wanted trade legalized for their products. It estimated there are now about 4,000 tigers in these farms.
"The farms keep captive-bred tigers together in large enclosures — a condition not found in the wild — and feed live animals to them before busloads of tourists," WWF said in a statement. "Such farmed tigers are unsuitable for reintroduction into the wild."
Lieberman, director of WWF’s global species program, stated that "allowing trade in tiger parts to resume, even if they are from captive-bred tigers, would inevitably lead to an increase in demand for such products."
"And a legal market in China," she added, "could give poachers across Asia an avenue for ‘laundering’ tigers killed in the wild, especially as farmed and wild tiger products are indistinguishable in the marketplace."
The wildlife groups estimate that fewer than 7,000 tigers remain in the wild. About 9,000 exist in captivity, the majority in the United States and China.
A TRAFFIC survey documented 17 instances of tiger bone wine for sale on Chinese auction Web sites, with one seller offering a 5,000-bottle lot.
Another survey found that Tibetan demand for tiger skin clothing is on the rise, with about 3 percent of Tibetans in major towns claiming to own tiger or leopard skin garments even though they knew it was illegal.