Obama urged to raise tiger trade during China President’s US visit

EIA and other concerned international and national organisations are calling on President Obama to raise the issue of tiger trade with China’s President Xi Jinping during his visit to the US this week.

With global attention focused on the poaching and trafficking crisis is sweeping across Africa, threatening the survival of an estimated 420,000 elephants and 25,000 rhinos, the trade threat facing wildlife in Asia has received less attention. With fewer than 3,200 wild tigers remaining across Asia, the organisations have appealed to President Obama to ensure that tigers urgently receive the highest levels of political and financial investment to end the demand making them worth more dead than alive.

Tiger skin with official permit at Xia Feng (c) EIA

Tiger skin with official permit at Xia Feng, China (c) EIA

One of the most critical threats to the survival of wild tigers is trade in their meat, skins and bones to satisfy demand driven by wealth rather than health – for high-status food, drink, home décor and even as investment assets. This demand is fuelled by a marked increase in tiger farms in China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, where tigers are intensively bred for trade in their parts and products; China alone claims to house more than 5,000 tigers on farms.

China is the main consumer market for tiger parts and products and its State Forestry Administration has helped to grow demand by supporting the expansion of tiger farms, allowing legal trade in skins from farmed tigers and approving farm wineries manufacturing tiger-bone wine.

These actions have stimulated consumer interest in tiger products from all sources, undermining law enforcement, incentivising poaching and facilitating trafficking by organised criminal networks. Tiger farm investors continue to push hard for full legalisation of trade in tiger bones – the very trade China banned in 1993 because it threatened the survival of wild tigers.

If trade were legalised, it would unleash a devastating demand that could quickly wipe out the last wild tigers, as the bones of wild tigers are far more valuable than those from captive tigers.

Vat of tiger bone wine in Harbin, China (c) Save The Tiger Fund

Vat of tiger bone wine in Harbin, China (c) Save The Tiger Fund

In order to ensure that tiger conservation remains a priority for the international community and to end tiger farming and tiger trade, President Obama should raise these issues with President Xi in Washington this week.

In addition, the US should also adopt the following steps to compel China to take vital action:

  • destroy all stockpiles of tiger parts and products and ensure deceased captive-bred tigers are incinerated so their parts cannot enter the black market;
  • review the current certification of China under the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Act and urge China to phase out tiger farms, as per Decision 14.69 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES);
  • encourage the adoption of the Big Cats and Public Safety Act (HR 3546) so that the keeping and breeding of the more than 5,000 captive tigers in the US can be phased down to include only the small number needed by legitimate zoos and conservation breeding programs, to set an example of best practice;
  • ask China and Laos to address the trafficking and sale of tiger parts and products, ivory, rhino horn and other endangered species in and through Laos by Chinese and Laotian nationals;
  • encourage the adoption of legislation that increases the capacity of the US to assist in the international effort to combat illegal wildlife trade, ensuring that tigers are emphasised along with elephants, rhinos and other species.

Zero poaching of tigers can only be achieved when there is zero demand. The US should continue its leadership in tackling illegal wildlife trade by seeking an end to tiger farming in Asia and the keeping of thousands of unregistered captive tigers in the US.

Tiger and cub (c) Robin Hamilton

Tiger and cub (c) Robin Hamilton

* The letter to President Obama was issued by:

Carole Baskin, Big Cat Rescue

Adam Roberts, Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation

Debi Goenka, Conservation Action Trust

Kedar Gore, The Corbett Foundation

Sally Case, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Debbie Banks, Environmental Investigation Agency

Iris Ho, Humane Society International / The Humane Society of the United States

Sean Carnell, National Tigers For Tigers Coalition

Kishore Rithe, Satpuda Foundation

Simon Clinton, Save Wild Tigers

Harshwardhan Dhanwatey, Tiger Research and Conservation Trust

Vicky Flynn, TigerTime

Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India

Biswajit Mohanty, Wildlife Society of Orissa