Where are the tigers? A Global Tiger Day special
End tiger farming to protect wild tigers
Tigers are highly endangered, with fewer than 4000 remaining in the wild today – a decline of 96 per cent over the past 100 years. Tiger scientists believe the tiger populations of Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are functionally extinct, while the wild tiger population in China continues to be perilously close to extinction. India is still the stronghold of the wild tiger with more half of the world’s population at an estimated 2,226 tigers.
While we should take heart from the recovery of tiger populations in some parts of India, there is no room for complacency. On the eve of Global Tiger Day, here’s a quick introduction to what actions EIA is taking to save wild tigers and other Asian big cats.
Investigating the tiger trade
During the course of the past 20 years, EIA Tiger Campaign investigators have been at the frontline of investigating and documenting trade in tigers and other Asian big cats. That includes investigating the organised criminal networks operating between India, Nepal and China in partnership with the Wildlife Protection Society of India, as well as the trade in “farmed” tigers in China.
Research and analysis of seizures over time reveals a cyclical trade pattern; a critical reminder to decision-makers to continue to invest not only in intelligence-led law enforcement to disrupt persistent networks and offenders, but to invest much more in demand reduction campaigns.
Well-established trafficking routes that are decades old are still being used to move wild tiger parts across borders between India-Nepal-China, India-Myanmar-China-Laos and Laos-Vietnam-China. You can get a glimpse into where tiger trade is happening from the maps here.
We are excited to announce a new EIA project, supported by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, to enhance enforcement to end tiger trade in South-East Asia.
The funding will support a partnership between EIA, Education for Nature Vietnam and Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand to map the criminal networks trading wild and captive tiger parts in the Mekong, generate information that can be used by law enforcers and galvanise international political and public support to end the trade. The project builds on previous work conducted by EIA and ENV.
A tiger’s stripe pattern is as unique as human fingerprints. EIA investigators capture images of tiger skins using hidden cameras during field investigations, but there are also a lot of tiger skins being offered for sale online and via social media platforms.
EIA is launching a new project to build a reference database of these images, along with images of tiger skins that have been seized and images of tigers in “farms”. We will be inviting other organisations undertaking similar work to participate so that together we can cross-reference and analyse tiger skins in trade.
For more information on this initiative, contact Samantha Rainsford via samantharainsford[at]eia-international.org
End tiger farming – Zero Demand for Zero Poaching
One of the most significant threats to the survival of tigers continues to be demand for their body parts.
Tiger skins are sold as decorative rugs for personal use or bribes, tiger bones are used in traditional medicines and used to make wine sold as a prestigious gift and a virility product. Meat is consumed as a delicacy, while teeth and claws are bought as charms. Almost every body part of the tiger is traded by criminals for massive profit and the trade is enabled by corruption.
The main market for tiger products is China and there is a market for a medicinal tiger bone “glue” in Vietnam. Chinese buyers are consuming and purchasing tiger bone wine and other body parts in free-for-all markets in Laos’ Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, in the capital Vientiane and in the lawless China-Myanmar border town of Mong La.
In addition to manufacturers in China, tiger bone wine is being brewed in North Korea, Myanmar and Laos. Trade in raw tiger and processed tiger parts online is rife, including on social media platforms such as Facebook and WeChat, in both open and closed networks of dealers.
The trade threat is exacerbated by the fact that there has been a marked increase in tiger ‘farms’ in China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, where tigers are being kept – and are often intensively bred – for trade. Facilities which keep tigers include not just large speed-breeding operations but also circuses, small backyard enclosures and facilities masquerading as zoos; for example, the discovery of 70 dead tiger cubs, skins and bone products at the infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand earlier last year.
Parts from captive tigers end up in domestic and international trade illegally and, in the case of China, in legal domestic trade. This perpetuates the desirability and acceptability of tiger parts and stimulates demand. It undermines enforcement as parts of farmed and wild tigers end up being sold in the same places and it is impossible to tell them apart.
In 2007, the international community decided tigers should not be bred for their parts and products. Despite these international commitments, tiger farming has increased at a rapid pace because some countries have not done enough to follow through. Consequently, operations replicating the tiger farming model have spread across South-East Asia and China, with new facilities reportedly being established.
The interactive map below provides a glimpse into the murky world of tiger farming, highlighting its rapid growth in China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. The vast majority of these facilities have no conservation value whatsoever – it’s all about the money and price tags that tigers represent.
There now are more than 7,000 captive tigers in facilities in China and South-East Asia. While not every facility identified in the map has been known to trade.
Explore the map to find tigers in captivity, facilities implicated in trade and planned facilities. This table of data provides examples of trade from “farmed” tigers.
EIA would like to thank Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) and Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) for information provided on facilities in Vietnam and Thailand.
The keeping and breeding of tigers for trade in their body parts has not alleviated pressure on wild tigers and the countries which treat tigers as a commodity are not seeing the same population recoveries documented in countries such as India, where there is a long history of protection, trade prohibition and no tiger farms.
In China, for example, the population declined from an estimated 4,000 wild tigers in 1949 to between 7-50 wild tigers surviving today. Meanwhile, the captive tiger population has grown rapidly since 2002 and is now estimated by the Chinese Government to be between 5,000 and 6,000.
By licensing domestic trade in the skins of captive tiger, China has undermined any efforts to end demand for tiger parts. EIA has been advocating for legal reform in China to end all trade, in all tiger parts and products, from all sources.