November 9, 2010

Illegal Trade Has Killed Over 1,000 Tigers In 10 Years

A report released Tuesday states that the illegal trade in tiger parts has led to over 1,000 wild tigers being killed over the past decade.

Traffic International, a wildlife trade monitoring network, found that skins, bones and claws were among the most common items seized by officials.

It said that trade continues unabated despite efforts to protect the cats.

Tiger numbers have fallen from about 100,000 individuals to just about 3,500 over the past century.

The study estimates that between 1,069 and 1,220 tigers were killed to supply the illicit demand for tiger parts.  It used data from 11 of the 13 countries that are home to populations of Panthera tigris.

According to the study's authors, the result was based on an analysis of 481 seizures.  Over 275 of the seizures were in India, which represented between 469 and 533 tigers.

They said that China had the second highest number of seizures, accounting for up to 124 animals, while Nepal reported 113 to 130 tigers seized.

"Given half the world's Tigers live in India, it's no real surprise the country has the highest number of seizures," co-author Pauline Verheij, joint TRAFFIC and WWF tiger trade program manager, told BBC News.

"While a high number of seizures could indicate high levels of trade or effective enforcement work, or a combination of both, it does highlight the nation's tigers are facing severe poaching pressure," she added.

"With parts of potentially more than 100 wild tigers actually seized each year, one can only speculate what the true numbers of animals are being plundered."

The authors said the data showed that the trade continued "unabated despite considerable and repeated efforts to curtail it on the part of tiger range and consumer countries, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs".

WWF's Tigers Alive initiative leader Mike Baltzer told BBC, "Clearly enforcement efforts to date are either ineffective or an insufficient deterrent.

"Not only must the risk of getting caught increase significantly, but seizures and arrests must also be followed up by swift prosecution and adequate sentencing, reflecting the seriousness of crimes against tigers," he added.

In March 2010, nations agreed to increase intelligence sharing against criminal networks that smuggled big cat parts.

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said in 2009 that the global black market in wildlife products was worth about $10 billion per year, making wildlife the third most valuable illicit commodity after drugs and weapons.

Conservationists say that "tiger farms" in china perpetuate a market into which wild tiger parts can be sold, often commanding a higher value as products made from wild animals are perceived to be more "potent."

The report called for an improved understanding of the tiger trade and much tighter law enforcement. 

China does not officially permit the sale of goods from these tiger farms, but investigations have revealed that tiger parts are being sold.

"But good enforcement alone will not solve the problem," warned Steven Broad, executive director of Traffic.

"To save tigers in the wild, concerted action is needed to reduce the demand for tiger parts altogether in key countries in Asia."

The authors concluded that enforcement to date "point to a lack of political will among those responsible at national and international levels".

They hoped the report would provide an "important baseline to inform the understanding of this persistent yet illegal trade".

Tigers have been listed as an Appendix I species under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which means all commercial trade in the animals or their parts is banned.


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