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Suppose you took an iconic endan- Tigers need privatisation too


Suppose you took an iconic endan- Tigers need privatisation too

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									   Tigers need privatisation too
                                                                                                Brendan Moyle

        uppose you took an iconic endan-          once a problem for crocodile conserva-        do, trusting in centuries-old medical
        gered species and put in a plan to        tion too. Widespread crocodile farming        tradition. Demand has not been curbed
        save it. But after five years, there is   and a CITES-sanctioned trade drove            by Western NGO campaigns condemn-
 no sign of reversing the species’ dramatic       poachers out of the market. The same          ing the practice, and the illegal supply
 decline. Surely you would recognise that         approach could be applied to tigers.          of tiger bone has not been stopped by
 the plan is not working and look for al-               China has perhaps 5,000 tigers in       government bans. Wild tiger popula-
 ternatives?                                      captive facilities (the USA has closer        tions are paying the price.
       There has been a catastrophic re-          to 10,000). Tigers aren’t all that com-             Most black-market tiger bone is ac-
 duction in numbers of tigers in the wild,        plicated to breed. But tiger farming is       tually fake. It is expensive for smugglers
 particularly in India. Only in China are         unpalatable to many people—it seems           to procure tiger bone in India, smuggle
 numbers increasing—where they are be-            unethical, cold-blooded.                      it through Nepal, over the Himalayas,
 ing commercially farmed.                               It isn’t clear what makes tigers spe-   through Tibet and into China’s eastern
       But at the Convention on the In-           cial. Various wild animals are farmed or      regions. Shooting a local cow and pass-
 ternational Trade in Endangered Species          ranched, including crocodiles, emus,          ing its bones off as tiger is much easier.
 (CITES) in The Hague in June, mis-               parrots and butterflies. And in terms of      But this dependence on fakes does noth-
 guided conservationists struck another           cruelty, having wild tigers killed by traps   ing to relieve the pressure on small wild
 blow against sustainability. The Con-            or inefficient poisons in India far ex-       tiger populations struggling to absorb
 vention decided to restrict the captive          ceeds the fate of tigers in farms. It might   losses from poaching.
 breeding programmes in China without             be nicer to see tigers in the wild than on          At The Hague, the international
 coming up with a solution to the prob-           farms, but to make that happen we need        community could have supported in-
 lem of poaching in India.                        to close down the black market.               centives for a range of commercial ac-
       China has perhaps 60 wild tigers                 The Chinese have an excellent           tivities from eco-tourism, to breeding
 left, Russia has maybe 400, and India            monitoring system in place for captive        tigers and trade in body parts. Barun
 has seen its tiger population crash to           tigers. Every captive tiger has been mi-      Mitra believes that the tiger can become
 about 2,500.                                     cro-chipped and has had blood taken for       economically viable and thereby survive
       Orthodox conservation plans based          DNA profiling. The Chinese can follow         in the wild—as well as continuing as a
 on protection have failed the tiger.             a chain-of-custody from farms to cus-         charismatic and culturally rich species.
       The answer may lie with tiger farm-        tomers. The technology to prove tiger               An internationally sanctioned and
 ing and removing the international ban           products are legally sourced is in place.     regulated trade promised solutions to
 on the sale of tiger parts. In June, a co-       Selling poached tiger product faces ma-       the major threats that tigers face. It
 alition of groups led by the Indian econ-        jor hurdles.                                  promised to create opportunities for
 omist Barun Mitra called for a lift on the             Sanctions for trading or possess-       habitat protection and the revival of the
 ban—arguing, simply, that when trade             ing tiger parts are harsh and can include     species.
 is outlawed, only outlaws trade.                 the death penalty. Smugglers are being              Farming and trading have worked
       Poaching is one of the biggest threats     caught, but demand for tiger parts and        for other species. In June, an opportu-
 to the tiger’s survival. But poaching was        the lure of the very high black-market        nity for a new plan, a new approach to
                                                  prices is keeping the trade alive.            tiger conservation was lost. A growing
                                                        The big market is for tiger bone,       tragedy for much of our wildlife is that
 Brendan Moyle is a Zoologist and                 used in traditional Chinese medicine          we have become too timid to jettison
 Senior Lecturer at Massey University,            for treating bone diseases. Tiger farms       ineffectual strategies when they don’t
 New Zealand. He has a PhD in                     in China report visitors and their fami-      work.
 wildlife economics from Waikato                  lies begging for bones for treating seri-
 University and has visited tiger farms           ous arthritis. Whether we believe that                                          I PA
 in China as part of his research into the        tiger-bone is effective or not is irrel-
 Chinese black market in tiger bone.              evant—millions of Chinese consumers

JULY 2007                                                             7                                          R E V I E W

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