Urgent Action Afoot to Save Vanishing Tigers

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 17, 2000 (ENS) - A team of senior United Nations officials representing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will visit India and Japan this month in an effort to promote immediate action to reverse the alarming decline in wild tiger populations.

"Tigers are so highly endangered that they may soon be extinct in the wild," said CITES Standing Committee Chairman Robert Hepworth of the UK. "This tragedy can only be prevented if tiger range states do more to protect habitat and combat poachers, consumer states stamp out the market for tiger parts and derivatives, and rich countries help to fund tiger conservation efforts."

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Tiger and cub (Photos courtesy 5tigers.org)
On 23 January, Hepworth, CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers, and Tiger Missions Technical Team leader John Sellar start a four-day mission to India, which still boasts the world’s largest wild tiger population. They will meet with conservationists and tiger reserve managers in Khajuraho before travelling to New Delhi to discuss strategies for protecting tiger habitat with high-level government officials.

"We believe that India can make an essential contribution to saving the tiger by forming specialized wildlife crime units at the State and Federal levels, expanding and developing anti-poaching programmes in protected areas, and expanding community-based initiatives for relieving pressure on tiger habit," said Wijnstekers.

On January 31, the team will arrive in Japan, the only country in Asia that still permits the legal sale of tiger parts. Tiger parts are used by certain traditional medical practitioners and by some people who believe they can increase virility.

"We believe the Japanese government recognizes the importance of strengthening Japan’s domestic controls on the sale of tiger parts and derivatives," said Sellar. "By cutting back or eliminating demand in this key market, the government will help reduce the incentive for poaching in the range states."

From a population of over 100,000 in the 19th century, the wild tiger population is down to an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 individuals. Tigers range from India and Russia to China and Southeast Asia, but with several sub-species thought to be already extinct, the species' long-term survival is now at stake.

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Young female tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India, February 1999 (Photo by James Gilden courtesy 5tigers.org)
Tiger hunting is now illegal everywhere, and international trade in tigers and tiger products is completely banned under CITES. Still, habitat destruction continues at a rapid pace, live tigers enter the illegal exotic pet trade, tiger skins are bought and sold, and tiger parts are sought for presumed health benefits.

This month’s high-level mission to Japan and India was preceded last year by technical missions to 14 tiger range states and consumer nations. The resulting technical report, adopted by the CITES Standing Committee in September, recommends that techniques be developed to determine the presence of tiger parts in various products. It also recommends that the sale of tiger parts in Japan be prohibited.

Scientific studies of the actual effectiveness of tiger parts in traditional medicines should be conducted in order to aid education and awareness campaigns, the technical mission recommends.

The report also suggests that enforcement activities for tackling organized smuggling routes, including the interrogation of poachers and traders who are apprehended, be undertaken.

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Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman produced this poster "Siberian Tiger at Dusk" to benefit CITES. Cost $US30 Snow Goose Gallery, 9693 Gerwig Lane, Columbia, Maryland 21046. Contact Email: ctsf@snowgoosegallery.com
The report of the technical missions will be presented to the First General Assembly of the Tiger Forum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from January 18 to 20.

The work of both the technical and political teams will be presented to the 11th Session of the Conference of the Parties to CITES when it meets at the Nairobi headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme, which administers the CITES secretariat, from April 10 to 20.

In addition to tigers, COP 11 will consider over 60 species-specific proposals ranging from elephants and crocodiles to dolphins, turtles, and parakeets.

Around the world, many species of plants and animals have become endangered due to habitat destruction, pollution, trade, and other forces. CITES was adopted in 1973 to help ensure the survival of those species that are threatened by international trade. Its 147 member governments can either strictly regulate international trade in threatened species via an Appendix II listing or ban all international commercial trade in species threatened with extinction via inclusion in Appendix I.