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China reopens trade in tiger and leopard skins

‘Loophole’ defies the spirit of big cat conservation pledge

LONDON: Despite Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s promise to the world that his country would “vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products”, China appears to have quietly reopened the trade in tiger and leopard skins.

Ahead of next week’s meeting of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Standing Committee in Geneva, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has directly contacted participants – including those from the UK, the USA and all tiger and Asian leopard range countries – to urge them to challenge China on the issue.

Although previously committing to end trade in the parts of Asia’s big cats, it appears China has resumed trade in tiger and leopard skins via the implementation of its 2007 Skin Registration Scheme.

The Scheme allows for tiger and leopard skins from ‘legal origins’, including those from captive-bred big cats, to be registered, labelled and sold; EIA believes this provides the perfect cover for illegal skins to be laundered and seriously undermines China’s promise to last November’s International Tiger Summit in St Petersburg by re-opening trade at a time when the rest of the world is seeking to end it.

And EIA has already discovered several examples of skins for sale online, which appear to have formal permits.

“Parties to CITES may feel they’ve been misled as a result of China’s tactics,” said EIA Tiger Campaign Head Debbie Banks. “What they’ve failed to grasp is that despite committing to the domestic trade ban on tiger bone, China has refused to make the same commitment over skins or answer questions about how many skins are being traded, but the system is there.

“The Skin Registration Scheme is going in totally the wrong direction. It’s doing nothing to actually help tiger and leopard conservation, instead providing a cover for illegal trade and creating a confused consumer market.”

By permitting the Skin Registration Scheme to go ahead, China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) appears to making a complete mockery of Premier Wen Jiabao’s pledge regarding tiger conservation. In May, EIA wrote to him directly to alert him to this situation but has yet to receive a reply.

“China is one of the world’s leading economies and is always insisting it doesn’t need outside help to protect wildlife and stop illegal trade,” added Banks. “There can be no more excuses; it has had ample time to strengthen its laws and invest in enforcement operations which target the criminals controlling the trade. If it really wanted to end the trade and save tigers and leopards in the wild, there is a lot more it could do.”


1. Parties to CITES Standing Committee in Geneva should seek clarification from China about the status of the registration and domestic sale of the skins of tigers and other Asian big cats;

2. China should formally ban all trade in all parts and derivatives of Appendix I Asian big cats from all sources – tigers, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards and Asiatic lions;

3. China should ensure its enforcement is far more specialised and focused than at present, moving beyond border seizures to target the domestic criminals responsible.

Interviews are available on request: please contact EIA Tiger Campaign Head Debbie Banks at
or telephone 020 7354 7960.


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

2. The EIA report Enforcement not Extinction: Zero Tolerance on Tiger Trade outlines EIA’s recommendations for urgent actions to reverse the tiger’s decline

3. EIA has written to China seeking clarification over the 2007 Skin Registration Scheme and raised questions about it from the floor at UN meetings, but China has failed to respond.

4. The International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg in November 2010 resulted in the adoption of the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) and the goal of doubling the wild tiger population by 2022

5. During a GTRP Implementation meeting in March 2011, China admitted to its reliance on NGO information to assess the status of trade, interpreting an absence of such information from NGOs to mean trade had been deterred.