Study Finds Chinese Tiger Farms Stimulate Illegal Trade

27 February 2013

Ambiguous regulations on the sale and handling of tiger parts in China are leading to an increase in poaching and trade in the endangered species, according to a new study. The study - released by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a UK-based green group - says that that despite ratifying the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), China stimulates illegal trade in the species by allowing a significant captive-bred tiger population, which feeds domestic demand for parts.

CITES bans international commercial trade in tiger parts and derivatives. It also calls for domestic trade prohibitions, consolidation, and destruction of stockpiles of tiger parts and products, and assurance that tiger parts are not traded illegally.

Chinese regulations - especially those in the past 10 years - have been ambiguous. The country's wildlife and agricultural laws allow the "utilisation" of tigers and other endangered species for "economic growth," thus, effectively sanctioning legal commercial trade of captive-bred tiger parts domestically. Although the legal trade in tiger parts is regulated by licenses, the authors of the study say the system is marred by lax regulations, forging, and misuse.

The study says China's domestic industry has led to increased demand for tiger parts which is further spurred by their conspicuous use as investments and luxury items, primarily by the political, business, and military elite. In addition to ornamental uses, tiger bones are used in the manufacture of a highly prized wine. Chinese laws enable private owners to stockpile bones for this use, rather than mandating their destruction. In spite of a ban on the use of tiger bone, stock stockpiles are said to be growing.

The report points out that captive breeding combined with hasty regulations has led to the creation of a lucrative market for tiger parts the size of which can be estimated by the fact that more than 90 percent of the total international illegal trade in big cats is destined for China. This market not only offers means to launder illegally acquired tiger parts but also drives the problems of poaching and farming of tigers outside China, the authors say.

Illegal exports to feed the Chinese market come primarily from poaching operations in India and Nepal. In addition, there is speculation that legal tiger farms in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam are supplying tiger parts across borders to feed China's seemingly insatiable demand.

The full EIA study Hidden in Plain Sight: China's Clandestine Tiger Trade can be accessed here.

ICTSD reporting.

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