Tiger thought extinct spotted in China

Friday, October 12, 2007
South Yarmouth, MA
For the first time in more than 20 years, a South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) has been spotted in the wild. Guan Ke, officer of the Propaganda Center of the Shangxi Province Forestry Bureau confirmed the sighting by an eyewitness of a single South China tiger in the Qinling Moutains in the Northwest province of Shanxi. IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org) remains cautious to the news, because while experts estimate the continued existence of a handful of individuals, scientists have regarded the South China tiger functionally extinct for years. Experts regard a species as functionally extinct when the population is no longer genetically viable.
Indeed, IFAW believes that special interests’ attempts to repeal China’s domestic trade ban on tiger products remains the biggest threat not only to the future of the South China tiger, but to the few remaining tigers in the wild of China and in other adjacent tiger range habitats.  The South China tiger is believed to be the “stem” species for all other tiger species and plays a significant role in the ancient Chinese culture.
 
Shanxi Province, as part of the traditional range of this sub-species occurring only in China, has been the location of a few reports of sightings of wild tigers in recent years. In 2006, a task force was launched by the provincial forestry department and the local county government to investigate these sightings. Former hunter, 52-year-old Zhou Zhenglong, was designated the captain of this special team. Zhou has reported a few sightings of wild tigers in the past and last week, during the Chinese National Day celebrations, (October 4), he finally succeeded in photographing one. 
 
A mere 40 years ago, there were reportedly over 4,000 tigers in China, yet habitat loss and poaching for trade in their parts have reduced wild tigers in China to fewer than 50. For some sub-species, the numbers are down to single digits, so low that scientists consider them virtually extinct.
 
While few wild tigers are left in China, over 5000 are kept in tiger farms, bred for commercial trade in their parts and derivatives.
 
In June, delegates to the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species passed a decision that “tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.” Conservationist believe that the commercial breeding of tigers for trade encourages the poaching of tigers in the wild.  Nevertheless, commercial tiger farms in China continue to lobby the Chinese government to lift the ban on tiger trade.  
 
“Coupled with habitat and prey restoration, the only hope for wild tigers in China and wherever they still exist, is to stop the trade in tiger parts in any form and from any source,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, IFAW’s Asia Regional Director. 
 
“IFAW stands firm in supporting efforts in tiger range countries to increase law enforcement, to curtail poaching and trade of tiger parts and products and to raise awareness so that consumers reject tiger products,” she added.
 
Just this month and at IFAW’s urging, Russian authorities increased the fines for poaching wild tigers from US $50 to US $20,000. Earlier this year, IFAW provided emergency relief and rehabilitation to four orphaned tiger cubs found in the Russian Far East.

IFAW also hosts Tiger Watch, an educational program that brings enforcement rangers from Russia to tiger ranges in India.

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