Poachers are continuing to kill the world’s remaining tigers, despite progress in reducing the use of the animals’ bones in traditional medicine. A report by the Traffic network, the wildlife trade monitoring programme of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), says the poaching is continuing “unabated”. A recent WWF survey in Indonesia found that at least 66 Sumatran tigers had been killed in the last two years alone.
This represents almost 20% of the wild Sumatran tiger population. Of the total lost, 37 animals were killed in national parks.
WWF says the discovery in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, of a pet shop with two tiger cubs on open sale in 1998 “demonstrates how blatant the tiger trade has become in some countries”.
The report says there has been progress in reducing the use of tiger bones in Chinese medicines, because of tougher laws and enforcement, and because substitutes are increasingly accepted.
But it says the progress is being undermined by the trade-in tiger skins, teeth and claws, with major tiger markets flourishing openly in most countries where the animals live.
The report, Far from a Cure, says: “Disturbingly large markets for tiger skins persist, and other large cats, such as leopards, are poached as substitutes for tiger bone.”
In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, it says, a raid last December resulted in one of the largest seizures of recent times, including the skins of four tigers and 70 leopards, and 18,000 leopard claws.
In the spotlight
The Traffic researchers say all range states (countries with wild tigers) and countries which use parts of the animal should get tougher on tiger crime, introducing and enforcing stronger laws to deter poaching and illegal trade.
They say there were markets in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma and Laos during the last few months of 1999.
WWF is demanding immediate action from these states, which it says will be in the spotlight at the CITES (UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) meeting in Kenya in April.
Stuart Chapman of WWF-UK said: “The tiger is running out of time, and governments are running out of excuses. This barbaric trade must end.” He told BBC News Online: “We think it is realistic to demand action from range states, even though they are poor countries.
“They do have the capacity to stop the open sale of tiger parts. It’s simply a question of a police officer walking the street and preventing the sale of skins, or cubs.
“It’s not rhetoric. We’ve seen examples in the past where action under CITES has produced results.
“Indonesia has a huge wildlife trade in things like reptile skins, coral and songbirds.
“If countries like that feel the pinch in other areas, a low-level issue like tigers will come right up the agenda.”
The number of wild tigers thought perhaps to have been as high as 100,000 a century ago, is now put at around 6,000.