Smuggling of Tiger Skins Is Rife and Growing, Says Study
BANGKOK The illicit trade in tiger and leopard skins has reached alarming proportions, posing a serious threat to the survival of the big cats, a conservation group said on Wednesday.
"Detailed field investigations reveal the existence of well-organized syndicates trafficking tiger and leopard skins among India, Nepal ... and China," said the London-based Environment Investigation Agency (EIA).
The agency reported its findings at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in the Thai capital, where improved enforcement against the flourishing illegal wildlife trade is a major theme.
EIA investigator Julian Newman said that research showed 56 tiger and 997 leopard skins were seized by authorities in India, Nepal, and China in the decade from 1985 to 1994. But over the last five years, he said 94 tiger skins and 1,079 leopard skins were seized.
There are only around 5,000 tigers believed to be left in the wild, and perhaps half of them are in India. Leopards are also endangered throughout their Asian range.
Of particular concern was the seizure in October last year in the Tibetan region of China of 31 tiger skins and 581 leopard skins. Tiger skins can fetch up to $10,000 each. The vast majority of the tiger products sold in China originate in India.
"We are really worried about the volumes coming out of India. Thirty-one tigers at once is really worrying," said Debbie Banks, EIA's tiger campaign leader.
International trade in all tiger species is banned under CITES, which regulates the global trade in wild plants and animals.
An economic boom in China and desperate poverty in much of rural India are stimulating the tiger skin market, driving demand on one side of the border and the economic incentive to poach and smuggle on the other.
"Tigers poached in India are ending up as luxury decor in the homes of wealthy Chinese and are often smuggled through Nepal," said EIA.
The findings in the EIA report, "The Tiger Skin Trail," follow warnings issued over the years by other conservation groups about the trade.
The two-week CITES conference ends on Oct. 14.