India must not support a Chinese campaign to lift a ban on trading tiger parts as any relaxation could wipe out the endangered cats, conservation group WWF-India said on Wednesday.
NEW DELHI -- India must not support a Chinese campaign to lift a ban on trading tiger parts as any relaxation could wipe out the endangered cats, conservation group WWF-India said on Wednesday.
The call came a day after a Chinese delegation met Indian officials seeking support to lift the ban, imposed in 1993 on the sale of tiger bones in China for use in traditional medicines as well as skins.
"At a time when the tiger is already facing threats like habitat loss and poaching, China's move to lift the ban will only compound the problem further," Sujoy Banerjee from WWF-India's Species Conservation Programme told a news conference.
"The Indian government should take a strong stance on this issue in the interest of tiger conservation in India, which has the world's largest population of tigers in the wild."
Beijing is expected to ask permission to lift the ban at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) in The Hague in June.
China has about 30 tigers in the wild but has several tiger breeding centres or farms which collectively house about 5,000 tigers.
Conservationists say pressure to lift the ban on the Chinese government is coming from powerful investors in these farms, who stand to make enormous profits if the trade becomes legal.
The ban dramatically reduced the market for traditional medicines made from tigers and the current small illegal market is worth around $500 million annually.
The businessmen and tiger breeders argue selling tiger parts for use in traditional medicines to treat rheumatism and loss of appetite would actually help preserve the endangered animals as the trade would be regulated and there would less poaching.
But conservationists say making the tiger trade legal will result in a massive surge in demand for parts leading to increased poaching in countries like India which is facing a crisis in trying to save its own population of the big cats.
"Breeding a tiger costs $1,500 per year, but poaching a tiger costs just $40. If the trade becomes legal, which is more profitable -- poaching or breeding?" said wildlife biologist A.J.T. Johnsingh.
There were about 40,000 tigers in India a century ago, but decades of poaching and depletion of their natural habitat have cut their number to 3,700. Some wildlife experts say the total could be as low as 1,200.
"If India supports China, it will be a holocaust for the tigers," said Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.