People often ask me what I believe the biggest threat to the world's remaining tigers is - my response - demand. Demand for tiger skin, bone and other body parts, fuels and finances organised poaching and trafficking, which has had a rapid effect on tiger sub-populations and has resulted in localised extinctions. This continued demand is putting the species under huge pressure and driving them closer and closer to extinction. Skins are seen as status symbols, used for home décor, whilst bones are used in tonics and medicines. Both are traded by illegal criminal syndicates for huge profits.
Debbie Banks, head of the EIA's tiger campaign that Save Wild Tigers supports, has the following message:
I have a simple message for the government delegates preparing for the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in Botswana scheduled for the end of March – please don’t forget about the tigers! With perhaps as few as 3,200 wild tigers remaining, every single tiger counts. Based on known incidents of poaching, trafficking and illegal sales, at least 1,500 tigers have ended up in trade since 2000. In numbers, that might not grab the same headlines as the tragedy unfolding for Africa’s elephants and rhinos but it is no less a crisis considering just how few wild tigers remain.
Poaching is driven by demand for tiger parts, primarily among the Chinese business, political and military elite. Tiger skin rugs are purchased for luxury home décor or bribes, tiger bone wine is considered a prestigious gift and meat served as a delicacy. Vietnamese consumers prefer their tiger bone in the form of a glue, pieces of which are mixed with wine to treat arthritis.
In the closing remarks of the Towards Zero Poaching symposium in Kathmandu last week, the Secretary General of the Global Tiger Forum, Dr Rajesh Gopal, called for zero demand to support zero poaching. Quite simply, wild tigers need every government to work towards ending all trade (international and domestic) in all tiger parts (skins, bones, meat, teeth, claws) from all sources (wild and captive-bred). That is the commitment we hope government delegates to the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference will make at the end of March.
Image (C) Nick Garbutt