CITES Falls Short of Addressing Critical Threats to Wild Tigers

Friday, October 6, 2006
Yarmouth Port, MA
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) approved an action at today’s meeting of the Standing Committee (SC) requiring China to respond to concerns over the illegal tiger trade there. While the move by the committee was well received by conservationists, including IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare; www.ifaw.org), the decision falls well short of addressing the critical vulnerability of a dwindling tiger population threatened by poaching for illegal trade.
CITES lists the tiger among the most endangered species in need of protection, identifying illegal trade as the major threat to the species. Poaching to supply tiger parts to illegal markets has completely wiped out wild tigers from some nature reserves in India. And tiger farms in China are lobbying to legalize the trade in parts and derivatives of captive-bred tigers. However at the discussion on tigers, the SC failed to endorse actions proposed by the CITES Secretariat and the US to address the rampant illegal trade of tiger parts and derivatives across Asia.

China is a key market for trade in tiger parts: tiger skins are seen as status symbols by a growing number of affluent Chinese, and tiger body parts are historically valued as ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines (TCM). Despite national laws banning the trade in tiger parts, investigation reports recently released by conservation groups, including IFAW, have found rampant illegal trade of tiger skins and bones in China. The IFAW report indicates, for example, the presence of an illegal tiger bone wine cellar at Xiong Sen Bear and Tiger Farm in Guangxi Province, with 400 “wine” vats, each containing a fermenting tiger carcass.

Conservationists contend that legalizing tiger trade of any kind will create insurmountable challenges for law enforcement and provide illegal traders with the opportunity to “launder” parts from wild tigers. It will also send the wrong message to consumers, who already are poorly equipped to distinguish legal from illegal wildlife products.

“The tiger crisis is something that no government can choose to ignore” said Peter Pueschel, Wildlife and Habitat Program Manager for IFAW. “Although we are pleased that this decision approved by the SC today will address some of the law enforcement efforts to tackle illegal trade in tigers, we are dismayed by the fact that the SC failed to endorse measures that could bring the tiger crisis to the highest level of governments’ attention, a step critically needed for creating political will to save the tigers from extinction.”

“Here and Now we need decisive action: Markets need to be controlled, illegal traders arrested, consumers informed and warned not to participate in the extinction of tigers by buying the wrong products. It can be done, if governments don’t postpone decision but use their resources to act, then we are prepared to assist.”

“The international community must take a lead to save tigers, to send a clear message to all countries that tiger trade is unacceptable,” Mr Pueschel said. “Tigers are a symbol of the wild. CITES will have failed in their own mandate, and failed future generations, if they allow tigers to disappear forever.”

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