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Poachers Push Tigers Near Extinction

NEW DELHI, India, September 27, 2006 (ENS) - The illegal trade in tiger skins is rapidly driving the species toward extinction, environmentalists warned on Wednesday. A new report by two environmental groups blames the governments of India and China for doing virtually nothing to halt the alarming decline, despite frequent promises of action and ample evidence the illegal trade has increased dramatically in recent years.

In 2001, scientists estimated that only some 5,000 - 7,500 tigers remained in the wild, with about half found in India.

But poaching has decimated the India's tiger population and the current figure could be as low as 1,200.

The rise in poaching has been driven by increased demand for tiger parts in China and Southeast Asia. Although India and China have strict laws and heavy penalties for illegal trade in tiger parts, the two nations are doing little to enforce these laws, finds a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). skin

The 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)
Undercover investigations by the two organizations revealed a thriving trade in tiger and leopard skins in China and Tibet. This trade is operating without "any hindrance for from the Chinese government," the groups said, with traders catering to an increased demand for the use of whole tiger and leopard skins as home decor and prestigious gifts.

Consumers driving this demand include Chinese tourists, local Chinese businessmen and government officials.

"Despite many promises from both the Indian and Chinese governments, no effective action has been taken to crack down on the hardcore criminals behind the skin trade," said Belinda Wright, director of WPSI. "The governments involved are in a state of lethargy, and, in the case of China, even appear to be condoning the trade."

The investigation of the markets in China documented an open and easily accessible trade in tiger and leopard skins. In the space of just ten days, investigators met 11 traders who offered them whole tiger and leopard skins. They even found a tent made of 108 tiger 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.

"This trade is run by highly organized criminal networks who have far too much invested to let a few isolated raids and random seizures deter them," said Debbie Banks, head of EIA's tiger campaign. "If the governments are to stand a chance of combating this illegal trade, they will need to recognize this and direct their enforcement teams to take more proactive, intelligence-led action." tiger

Tiger experts fear poaching could doom the species within decades. (Photo by J. Seidensticker courtesy Save the Tiger Fund)
There are laws on the books - both countries have banned the killing, smuggling, buying or selling of tiger or leopard parts. India has the authority to impose fines of $10,900 and seven-year jail sentences on poachers and others who participate in the illegal trade and China's law calls for a life sentence.

The groups recommend 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.

"Enforcement is not controversial or the subject of scientific debate. It is quite simply essential," Wright said. "The clock is ticking for the tiger and there is only so much more talking we can do, the time for action is now, before the last tiger vanishes."

The report was released ahead of the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species standing committee, who will be meeting in Geneva from Oct. 2-6.

The groups are calling on all parties to the treaty to recognize the urgency of the matter. They also urge the wider international community to provide financial support and enforcement expertise to facilitate the development of new enforcement units capable of tackling the organized criminal networks behind the illicit trade.

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