Conservationists Object to China's Tiger Farming Plan

Moves by China to consider legalizing tiger farming inside its borders are prompting roars of protest from conservationists, especially in India, which is home to half the world's wild tigers. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

A coalition of tiger conservation groups made clear they oppose any move by China to unilaterally lift a ban on the sale of tiger body parts.

The pronouncement was made in New Delhi, where a delegation from China's forestry administration is meeting with Indian officials. The Chinese are asking India not to oppose Beijing's plan to legalize the domestic sale of body parts from tigers raised on farms. The parts are used in the traditional Chinese medicine industry.

Sujoy Banerjee, the World Wildlife Fund-India species conservation director, told reporters that plan would be fatal for the dwindling number of Indian tigers.

"Lifting of the tiger trade in China will only sound the death knell for the tigers in India. And, therefore, the Indian government should take up the matter with the Chinese government very, very strongly," he said.

An Indian official who participated in the talks with the Chinese inspector general of forests, Rajesh Gopal says "a very clear signal" was given that it is premature to lend any support to the concept of tiger farming in China. He said the Chinese were told India's experience contradicts their assertions that conservation and the ban on the sale of body parts have not helped the tiger.

Conservationists here reject the Chinese position that legalizing the trade would end the demand for tigers poached from the wild.

Wildlife biologist A.J.T. Johnsingh says it would have the opposite effect because market demand would explode.

Johnsingh says raising a tiger in captivity for its body parts costs thousands of dollars and takes many years, but poaching a tiger in India is relatively easy and quick, and the expense, minimal.

"It would cost a maximum, say, $40, $50," he said. "Even to take it to the Chinese market it will cost at the most, $500. So it is much cheaper to poach wild tigers."

On the black market, a tiger skin can sell for thousands of dollars and other body parts can fetch hundreds or thousands of dollars each.

Conservationists say China could face trade sanctions if it lifts its ban because even domestic trade is prohibited under a 2002 international agreement.

The issue is expected to be discussed when representatives from 171 countries gather next month in the Netherlands for a conference on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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