LONDON: Despite signing up to global initiatives seeking to protect wild tigers and double their number by 2022, Government departments in China have quietly set about stimulating domestic markets for tiger skins and body parts.
As few as 3,500 tigers survive in the wild, yet more than 5,000 captive-bred tigers are held in Chinese ‘farms’ and ‘zoos’.
Investigations by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) have uncovered a legalised domestic trade in the skins of captive-bred tigers, sold as luxury home décor and stimulating the poaching of wild tigers and other Asian big cats as cheaper alternatives.
In addition, new evidence suggests a ‘secret’ Government notification on the use of the bones of captive-bred tigers is being used to justify the manufacture of ‘tonic’ wines.
Released today, the new EIA report Hidden in Plain Sight: China’s Clandestine Tiger Trade accuses China of defying the will of the international community and calls upon more senior levels of the Government to take control and amend laws to facilitate the destruction of stockpiles of all tiger parts and the phasing out of tiger farms.
EIA also wants the Government to send a clear message to all breeders, consumers and the industry that official policy is to end all demand and trade.
Debbie Banks, Head of EIA’s Tiger Campaign, said: “The stark contradiction between China’s international posture supporting efforts to save the wild tiger and its inward-facing domestic policies which stimulate demand and ultimately drive the poaching of wild tigers represents one of the biggest cons ever perpetrated in the history of tiger conservation.
“Pro-tiger trade policies are championed by only a handful of officials in a couple of Government departments and it behooves China to vigorously address and terminate this intolerable disconnect between words and deeds which so undermines international efforts to save the tiger.”
As a Party to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), China is subject to CITES requirements, which include a strict prohibition on international commercial trade in tiger parts and derivatives. CITES also calls for domestic trade prohibitions, the consolidation and destruction of stockpiles of tiger parts and products, assurance that tiger parts and derivatives from captive tigers do not enter illegal trade from captive-breeding facilities, and assurance that tigers are not bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.
Contrary to this, China has a massive captive tiger population and allows a legal trade in tiger parts sourced from captive-bred tigers. Under favourable policies, and with support and funding from the State Forestry Administration (SFA) of China, the captive tiger population now numbers more than 5,000 animals in up to 200 ’farms‘ and ’zoos‘.
And although a 1993 State Council order in China banned the use of tiger bone for medicinal purposes, EIA investigators also discovered evidence of a company using a ‘secret’ Government notification issued in 2005 as justification for producing “real tiger wine” – the tiger bone is soaked in wine but is not listed as an ingredient and is returned to the stockpile to be available for audit and inspection.
Banks added: “The promotion and facilitation of trade in captive-bred tiger parts clearly undermines former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s commitments to end all tiger trade.
"However, there is cause to hope for change – a Chinese civil society movement has already appealed for changes to China’s wildlife protection laws, and Representatives of the National People's Congress have submitted several proposals in recently years to amend laws and regulations to set China’s conservation strategy on a new course and to end the commercial utilisation of species such as bears and tigers.
“The international community should show support for this national movement calling for an end to policies which stimulate demand, and China must make good on its pledges to the international community and stop cynically stimulating and aiding a trade it has vowed to end.”