Any easing of China's ban on selling tiger hides and bones could be catastrophic to efforts to save the endangered wild cat, leading conservation groups said on Tuesday.
GENEVA -- Any easing of China's ban on selling tiger hides and bones could be catastrophic to efforts to save the endangered wild cat, leading conservation groups said on Tuesday.
TRAFFIC, a wildlife monitoring project of the Swiss-based WWF and World Conservation Union, said it was concerned Chinese officials would succumb to pressure from businessmen seeking to revive commerce in tiger parts.
China's ban, introduced in 1993, has virtually eliminated the market for traditional medicines made from tigers in what was once the world's largest consumer of such goods.
Environmentalists believe there are only 5,000 to 7,000 tigers remaining in the wild, with the largest number in India.
But in China, investors in "tiger farms" -- housing an estimated 4,000 tigers bred in captivity -- have been lobbying authorities to legalise trade from such facilities.
TRAFFIC Executive Director Steven Broad said lifting the ban, or amending it to allow sales of parts of tigers bred in captivity, would threaten years of work to protect the animal.
"It would be a catastrophe for tiger conservation," he said.
The WWF said any renewed tiger-part trading would create incentives for wild-animal poachers.
"A legal market in China could give poachers across Asia an avenue for 'laundering' tigers killed in the wild, especially as farmed and wild tiger products are indistinguishable in the marketplace," said Susan Lieberman, director of the WWF's Global Species Programme.
The conservation groups urged China to retain its ban and strengthen efforts to stop illegal trade in tiger and leopard skin garments, widely considered a status symbol in Tibet.
A moratorium on tiger breeding and a commitment to destroy all existing tiger carcasses could also help, they said.