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A bad year for the tiger?

Chinese Year of the Tiger raises threat to endangered species


MILLIONS of people around the world will be marking the start of the Chinese Year of the Tiger on Sunday, February 14 – but one of the planet’s most critically endangered animals will not be joining in the celebrations.

There may be as few as 3,100 wild tigers left worldwide yet the species is expected to come under even greater pressure during its namesake year due to a rise in consumer demand for illegal tiger skins and body parts.

London-based campaign group the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) today warned time is fast running out to secure a future for tigers and other big cats unless the Chinese government takes prompt action to stamp out the widespread corruption which facilitates the trade and commits to carrying out meaningful and long-term enforcement.

“The future of the wild tiger lies largely in the hands of the Chinese government,” said Debbie Banks, EIA Head of Tiger Campaign. “There is much more they could do to save the tiger if they wanted to.

“China will certainly be under the spotlight at the CITES Conference of the Parties at Qatar in March.”

Despite prohibitions, China continues to be a major consumer of products derived from tigers, leopards, snow leopards and other wildlife from South Asia.

Tiger skin, bone and teeth, leopard skin and bone, and snow leopard skin were all found for sale during EIA’s most recent investigation into the illegal trade in Asian big cats in China, conducted in August 2009.

The primary markets for skins are home décor, taxidermy and bribery. Other products such as bone are widely used in traditional Chinese medicines and tonics such as tiger wine.

Many of those involved in the trade are well aware of the opportunity to cash in on the Chinese Year of the Tiger; one skin dealer in Lhasa anticipated a rise in profits, telling an EIA investigator: “Everyone will want a tiger skin in the Year of the Tiger”.

Documenting the changing dynamics in the skin and bone trade, EIA has exposed the role of the Chinese military as major consumers of tiger and leopard skins. It has also encountered traders continuing to operate despite previous investigations, which commenced in 2004.

“If EIA can return to previously visited markets and find skin, bone and repeat offenders, year on year, it begs the question: What on earth are the Chinese authorities doing?,” said Banks.

There is some enforcement taking place in China, with seizures of tiger products, although some provinces are more proactive than others. Law enforcement agencies also carry out special operations, although these are often advertised in advance. More effective enforcement strategies are available and used to combat other forms of crime, but they are simply not being deployed in China in the fight to save the wild tiger.

Whether it is a case of outdated enforcement tactics, a lack of capacity and resources, localised corruption, ethnic minority dispensation, or a lack of political commitment at the national level, China has run out of excuses.


Urgent Call To Action – from EIA

1. As a matter of urgency, the government of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) should establish a specialist multi-agency enforcement unit which has the skills and resources to proactively investigate criminal networks engaged in the trafficking and sale of Asian big cat parts and derivatives.

2. Greater political commitment and investment to combat consumer demand and the trade in tiger skins and products, reducing it to negligible levels by 2015.

3. The Government of China must stop sending mixed messages by declaring a permanent ban on all trade, in all parts and derivatives, of tigers and other Asian big cats, in addition to consolidating and destroying stockpiles and supporting international efforts by phasing out tiger farms, which are not a conservation solution but a serious additional threat.

4. Securing and protected sufficient habitat for the long-term survival of wild tigers.


Editors’ notes

* The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.

* Current estimates suggest that there may be as few as 3,100 tigers left worldwide, with around 1,411 of these in India. Already three subspecies of tiger have gone extinct in the last 100 years.

* While China is the main destination for illegally poached Asian Big Cat parts, there is still demand in some other East Asian countries and products are then exported around the world.

* The long-term goal of the campaign is that Asian big cat populations recover from the current status and that the global wild tiger population rises to 5,000 by 2020.

* The Chinese Year of the Tiger begins on February 14, 2010.


Interviews are available on request: please contact: Debbie Banks, EIA Head of Tiger Campaign, at [email protected] or telephone 0207 354 7960


Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
Tel: +44 207 354 7960
Fax: +44 207 354 7961