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 user 2007-06-12 at 1:56:00 pm Views: 54
  • #17942

    End of the tiger tale?
    Valmik Thapar, it is a matter of principle, of human dignity, and
    distortion of the traditional relationship between mankind and
    nature.”To me it is disgusting,” he thunders. “It’s not civil to have
    tiger farms; it’s not part of anyone’s dream.”The target of Mr Thapar’s
    ire is a somewhat vague proposal from China to re-open the domestic
    trade in tiger products.The trade has been banned for 14 years, and
    using material from wild tigers would remain prohibited.Instead,
    traditional medicine ingredients such as bone would be sourced from
    animals kept in farms.There are thought to be at least five tiger farms
    in China, housing about 5,000 animals, the majority born and bred in

    If there wasn’t a ban on the tiger trade, I assure you there wouldn’t be one single tiger left in India today
    Valmik Thapar, Conservationist

    The tiger could easily earn its keep and buy its way out of extinction, if we allow it to do so
    Barun Mitra,Liberty Institute, Delhi

    that is more tigers than remain in the wild.Animal welfare and
    conservation groups are virtually united in their opposition.Re-opening
    a domestic market would boost poaching for that market, they believe,
    and would also lead to an increase in international trade, which would
    remain illegal under the Convention on International Trade in
    Endangered Species (CITES).A prominent conservationist who has spent 30
    years observing India’s tigers, Valmik Thapar is under no illusions as
    to what this would mean for the remaining wild populations, based
    largely in India.”If there wasn’t a ban on the tiger trade, I assure
    you there wouldn’t be one single tiger left in India today,” he told a
    reception at this year’s CITES meeting in The Hague.But there was a
    wider message. Tigers are wild creatures; that is how we used to treat
    them and respect them, and putting them behind bars, denuding them of
    their instincts and their traditional behaviours, has no place in a
    world which claims to be civilised.

    Closed doors
    farms sprang up in China in the 1980s, when the market was still
    thriving.Bans on national and international trade stemmed the lucrative
    stream of material flowing out of the farm gates. Some turned to
    tourism for income.An information document which China is presenting at
    this CITES meeting, entitled The Current Situation of Tiger Breeding
    and the Facing Difficulties (sic) of the Guilin Xiongsen Tigers and
    Bears Mountainvillage, laments the financial difficulties which one
    farm is facing.”We need 50,000,000 RMB ($6,500,000) to run the zoo, and
    yet, the income from tourism was just 15,000,000 RMB
    ($2,000,000).”Without a fresh financial support, the 1,000 tigers would
    be starving. Then, it would become meaningless to talk about
    protections of these animals.”The farm owners display compassion too
    for the people who come to their door seeking medical help.”Patients of
    rheumatism could be often seen to come to us for tiger bones, but we
    could give them nothing even when they get down on their knees pleading
    because it is not allowed.”The tiger farmers receive a sympathetic
    hearing from some NGOs which believe that conservation strategies work
    best when the conservation targets acquire some financial value.”When
    trade is outlawed, only outlaws trade,” says Barun Mitra of the Liberty
    Institute in Delhi.Mr Mitra’s thesis is that money should be made from
    tigers in a number of ways, from ecotourism to trading in tiger
    parts.The demand for crocodile skin, he says, used to be met by
    poaching. Nowadays, the supply chain starts in crocodile farms, which
    provide the same material at a fraction of the cost.As a result,
    crocodile numbers in the wild have risen; and he believes exactly the
    same thing could happen with tigers.”The tiger could easily earn its
    keep and buy its way out of extinction, if we allow it to do so,” Mr
    Mitra concludes.

    It is an argument swiftly dismissed by Sue Lieberman of WWF International.
    costs a lot to keep a tiger in captivity, and next to nothing to kill
    them in the wild,” she says.”In any case, legitimate traditional
    medicine doesn’t need tiger parts. And those who use tiger bone prefer
    bones from wild animals.”

    Farming for conservation
    approach is hard to read. Negotiations at this CITES meeting have
    resulted in a joint resolution on the issue from China, India, Nepal
    and Russia.Much of it is anodyne. The most intriguing clause reads:
    “Parties with operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale should
    implement measures to restrict the captive population to a level
    supportive only to conserving wild tigers.”So by implication, China is
    backing tiger farms only for conservation, not for trade. Yet some
    delegates say they have been told that the trade will be re-opened.

    The Chinese delegation has not so far granted the BBC an interview to clarify the situation.
    has done a great deal in 14 years, in terms of education, enforcement,
    and banning tiger products from traditional medicineSue Lieberman,WWF
    At its root may lie a conflict between the desire to
    support the international trade ban and the goodwill of the
    international conservation community, and the desire to support
    businessmen who may carry significant weight in their home
    regions.”China has done a great deal in 14 years, in terms of
    education, enforcement, and banning tiger products from traditional
    medicine,” comments Dr Lieberman.”So why they would want to risk all
    that now, just to give a bit of profit to a few rich businessmen, I
    don’t know.”Some of those businessmen are apparently making a profit
    from tiger parts already.Earlier this year, undercover reporters from
    the UK’s Independent Television News (ITN) visited Guilin tiger farm
    and found that tiger meat was being sold illegally. The origin of the
    meat was validated by an independent laboratory in China.John Sellar,
    senior enforcement officer with CITES, told delegates that the US Fish
    and Wildlife Service has now endorsed the Chinese laboratory’s
    findings. This had been communicated to the Chinese government, he said.

    How many tigers?
    the joint resolution is adopted by CITES, it is clear that difficulties
    still lie ahead, not least over that thorny issue of how many captive
    tigers would be needed for conservation.”That might depend from region
    to region, on the habitat – it might be two in one place and 10 in the
    next,” said India’s delegate Rajesh Gopal from the National Tiger
    Conservation Authority.”We don’t really need any captive tigers,” he
    added.India has chosen a policy of engagement, hoping that by starting
    with this degree of co-operation it can slowly persuade China to bring
    the tiger farming era to a close.If it does, what to do with the 5,000
    tigers already in captivity will be a difficult issue.They lack the
    instincts needed to survive in the wild. And coming from a small gene
    pool, they have little to offer the existing wild population.But that
    will be a single problem requiring a single solution. For Valmik
    Thapar, a much larger problem looms if farms are not closed and the
    tiger trade banned forever – the final extinction of this magnificent
    predator.”History will never forgive one human being or one collective
    of human beings if we take any other decision,” he says.