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Thu 07 Jul 2005

Poaching for Chinese markets spells extinction for wild tigers

Category : world

There are five subspecies of tigers left in the world, three having gone extinct in the late 20th century. The news about the surviving populations is quite disturbing.

Nirmal Ghosh just wrote "Extinction looms for wild tigers in Asia." The Straits Times, 06 Jul 2005.

"Last Saturday, police at an intersection in Udon Thani in north-eastern Thailand stopped two pickup trucks bound for China via Laos. Packed in huge iceboxes, they found the carcasses of three full-grown wild Malayan tigers.

A dead tiger can fetch up to US$40,000 (S$68,000) in China, where the market is growing because of rising affluence. Demand is fuelled by the belief that consuming ground tiger bones can relieve rheumatic pains, and tiger penises can enhance sexual vigour. Tiger fur can be seen on coats in the markets of Tibet.

Research in China itself has found the properties of tiger bones and organs are not very different from those of dogs, pigs and goats. But the myths refuse to die. Conservationists put the value of the illegal wildlife market at around US$160 billion annually, just behind the trade in contraband arms and narcotics. In terms of individual animals, the tiger is among the most valuable for a smuggler."

Last year, a TRAFFIC Southeast Asia report indicated that an estimated 253 tiger had been killed possibly halving the wild population of the Sumatran Tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) - see "Sumatran tiger being hunted to extinction."

India, with the largest population in the world of the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), raised the spirits of the world in the 70's and 80's with the Indira Ghandi-initiative, Project Tiger. This eventually spawned more than 20 tiger reserves.

However, many Indian conservationists and wildlife workers now question its effectiveness and even its initial success. In some reserves, the tiger has completely disappeared, hunted down by poachers. See "Tiger, tiger, losing fight." By Vibha Sharma. The Tribune, 29 May 2005. Another 15 years, and the big cat could be extinct.

In 2002, a 10-month survey involving 1,100 man-hours scoured 300 km of terrain looking for the South China Tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis). The survey revealed no tigers.

Now the reports from 2002, the WWF profile of the South China Tiger Panthera tigris amoyensis, reviewed by Tshewang Wangchuk (Tiger Coordinator, WWF-International) and Trishna Gurung (Communications Officer, WWF Asian Rhinos and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) and Tiger Programmes, WWF International) list this subspecies as "Possibly extinct in the wild."

See also "Chinese tiger as good as extinct." By Greg Breining. San Francisco Chronicle, 9 January 2003.

Some wildlife workers are not as hesitant - they indicate that the Chinese tiger has not been seen in the wild for some 15 years.

The only hope for the Southern Chinese tiger might be in reintroductions:

"Selected zoo Chinese tiger cubs will be sent to South Africa, where they will be trained to hunt effectively in a special area of 300 square kilometres that has been secured by Save China’s Tigers. This rehabilitation project will be conducted in parallel with the on-going Meihuashan Chinese Tiger Rehabilitation project in Fujian, China.

The Chinese Tigers who have successfully regained hunting skills and are able to survive independently in the wild will be returned to a Pilot Reserve in China. While the tigers are being rehabilitated, China will start the work of surveying land, restoring habitat, restoring prey animals and other predators in the Pilot reserve.

The first rehabilitated Chinese Tigers are expected to be reintroduced into the wild in China in 2008, to coincide with the hosting of Olympic Games by Beijing."

See the Save China's Tigers webpage.

Posted at 2:05AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news