World Delays Action to Save Tigers

GENEVA, Switzerland, October 11, 2006 (ENS) - The international community last week failed to agree on how to halt the illegal trade in tiger parts or how to curb widespread poaching of the world's largest cat, delaying any new action until June 2007. The lack of action comes despite new evidence that tigers are in stark decline and face possible extinction if poaching is not severely curtailed.

Scientists estimate only 6,000 tigers remain in the wild, although some warn the figure could be far lower. The species is has lost 40 percent of its habitat in the past decade. Wild tigers occupy only 7 percent of their historic range and their remaining habitat is increasingly fragmented and degraded.

There are clear signs poaching has accelerated in recent years, driven by increasing demand for tiger parts in China and Southeast Asia.

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Time may be running out for the world's largest cat. (Photo courtesy Save the Tigers)

Development and roadbuilding across Indochina is further fragmenting tiger habitat and the clear cutting of lowland rainforests in Sumatra and Malaysia has put further pressure on the world's largest cat.

A report to the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) presented at last week's meeting of the treaty's standing committee said efforts to save the tiger thus far "have failed."

But the committee decided to put off discussion of the tiger crisis again until next June, when the full CITES body convenes in Holland.

The committee did decide to send a technical enforcement mission from the CITES Secretariat to China to look into enforcement of this trade, but conservation groups contend that falls far short given the gravity of the situation.

"We are disappointed by the lack of leadership and the lack of commitment to conservation," said Susan Lieberman, director of WWF's global species Program. "The biggest problem facing tigers today is illegal trade between India and China, yet neither country showed the willingness to step up efforts to tackle this urgent problem. How bad does it need to get for tigers before governments take the necessary action?"

The failure of India and China to enforce laws against poaching and trade in tiger parts was documented by a new report released last month by two environmental groups.

The report, compiled by the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Wildlife Protection Society of India, revealed a thriving trade in China that has decimated tiger populations in India.

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In a report released last month, investigators found brazen disregard for anti-poaching laws - here a skin wearer posed last month with an enforcement officer at Litang Horse Festival in China. (Photo courtesy EIA/WPSI)

In the space of just ten days, investigators met 11 traders who offered them whole tiger and leopard skins. The environmental groups said the traders were clearly aware of the illegality of their operations, but were unconcerned about the threat of arrest or disruption by local authorities - one trader even said that enforcement had decreased in the last two years.

The groups called for a new enforcement agency be set up in India and China to coordinate efforts to crack down on the trade before it is too late.

According to Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and the World Conservation Union, a suggestion was on the table at the standing committee to convene "a high-level law enforcement meeting with all of the tiger range states and to come up with a process to measure how well recommendations made by CITES Parties in the late 1990s were being implemented."

"Instead, the delegates decided to do nothing for nine more months," Broad said. "The world's tigers can't wait another nine months."