Tiger Bone Contraband Seized at Taiwan Airport
TAIPEI, Taiwan, August 11, 2005 (ENS) - In the largest ever single seizure of tiger bone in Taiwan, Customs authorities at Kaohsiung International Airport on July 4 confiscated over 140 kilograms (308 pounds) of tiger bones, including 24 skulls, in a shipment from Jakarta, Indonesia.
The seizure was made public this week by TRAFFIC, the international wildlife monitoring program of WWF and the IUCN-World Conservation Union. It was one of the largest seizures in Asia since 2000, wildlife officials said.
The tiger bone was hidden in a container of deer antlers being exported to Taiwan for use in traditional medicines. Also seized were 400 kg (880 pounds) of pangolin scales and five pieces of carved ivory weighing one kilogram (2.2 pounds).
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) prohibits the international trade in parts and derivatives from tigers, elephants and pangolins, and in addition, all three species are protected in Indonesia.
A TRAFFIC Southeast Asia report released last year found that despite full protection, poaching of Indonesia's tigers and trade in their parts continues. The report estimated that at least 50 tigers were killed or removed from the wild in Indonesia each year between 1998 and 2002.
Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia regional program officer, said, "This single shipment intercepted in Taiwan last month represents nearly half that annual figure." Shepherd said.
"Assuming that all these tiger parts were sourced from Sumatra, Indonesia is in real danger of losing its last remaining tiger sub-species, the Sumatran tiger, if the widespread illegal trade in tiger parts is not stopped," Shepherd warned.
Indonesia was once inhabited by three sub-species of tiger - Javan, found on the island of Java; Balinese, found on the island of Bali; and Sumatran, found on the island of Sumatra.
But today only 400 to 500 tigers are left in the wild and only on the island of Sumatra. The Java and Bali tigers are both extinct due to illegal killing for trade, and loss of their habitat.
During TRAFFIC's research in Sumatra, traders indicated that they illegally sold tiger parts to Taiwan, as well as to Korea, China, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.
"We would like to commend the efforts of the Taiwan Custom's authorities in intercepting this illegal shipment, and we encourage other potential consumer countries to show similar vigilance and strong enforcement action," Shepherd said.
"Despite earlier indications of the trade in some markets shifting to tiger skins and other products beside bone, this seizure clearly illustrates that [the use of] tiger parts in traditional Asian medicine continues to be a threat to wild tigers."
In traditional Asian medicine, tiger bone is used to dispel wind and dampness and stop pain, and to strengthen tendons and bones. It is used to stop rheumatic pain, spasms of the limbs, and motor impairment of joints.
The use of tiger bone products is deeply rooted in traditional Asian cultures and these practices are slow to change.
Even so, TRAFFIC urged Indonesian authorities to intensify their enforcement efforts to ensure that even more tigers are not poached for the bone trade.
"Increased and improved enforcement is critical to saving Sumatran tigers,", Shepherd stressed. "Action should be taken against the markets, trade hubs and retail outlets, especially in northern Sumatra."
"More specialized anti-poaching units also need to be urgently established," he said. "Traders of illegal wildlife and wildlife parts and derivatives should also be punished to the full extent of the law."
Reports in recent months regarding the decline in tiger populations in some protected areas in India have forcefully re-focused the attention of the international conservation community on the poaching of tigers, especially in South Asia.
Now this seizure has turned the global spotlight on Southeast Asia as well.
The seizure took place days after a meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, which requested that all range states of Asian big cats report next year on their work in combating illicit trade in specimens of these species.
All range states have also been asked to report on their implementation of CITES recommendations addressing legislation and enforcement, anti-poaching efforts, public education and outreach, and other domestic controls.
"Conservation efforts must address the global picture if the trade in tigers is to be stopped, and if ultimately tigers are to survive in the wild," Shepherd said.
The seizure also indicates that illegal trade of numerous protected species from Southeast Asia to Taiwan and other East Asian destinations continues on a large scale.
Pangolins are one of the most heavily traded species in Asia. They are also protected in Indonesia, and throughout their range in Asia. Demand for their scales and meat in East Asia continues to drive a market that is threatening remaining wild populations.
A survey by TRAFFIC East Asia in 1996 into the use of wildlife as medicine and food by Hong Kong Chinese showed that the Chinese Pangolin Manis pentadactyla, although protected under CITES Appendix II, which allows only closely documented and regulated trade, was the third-most frequently consumed animal after snake and civet cat among those who consumed exotic animals. The flesh is regarded by consumers as a health tonic to warm up the body.
Pangolin scales were amongst the most frequently observed Chinese materia medica during surveys conducted in 1996 by the Chinese Academy of Science in six Chinese medicine markets in China. The scales are used to invigorate blood and promote menstruation, to promote lactation, and to reduce swelling.
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