In 1993, the Chinese government banned the sale and trade of tigers and their parts, providing a much-needed safety net for the species then teetering on the brink of extinction due to over-hunting and habitat loss. But last week, the Chinese government hinted that it might reopen the trade in tiger parts from farm-bred, captive populations of the majestic cat.
Wildlife advocates are concerned that allowing the trade in tiger parts for captive animals will spur poachers to also hunt wild individuals in order to sell their lucrative parts. Despite and maybe because of their endangered status around the world, tiger skins are a hot commodity on the world’s black market, especially in China and other parts of Asia, jeopardizing species recovery efforts. Many parts of the animal are also prized by some practitioners of traditional Asian medicine.
International environmental groups including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society have teamed up to fight China’s decision. “We’re afraid that poachers living near the world’s last populations of tigers may kill them to supply illegal markets that are likely to develop alongside any new legal ones,” said Susan Lieberman, head of WWF’s Global Species Program.