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Conservationists Blame China, India for Failure to Halt Illegal Tiger Trade


Conservationists say a flourishing illegal trade in tiger parts from India to China poses a huge threat to the big cat. Environmentalists are calling for urgent intervention by the Indian and Chinese governments to save the species.

Skins and parts of tigers poached in Indian wildlife sanctuaries continue to be openly bought and sold in Tibet. This is the finding of a study by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a British group, and the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

In a expose last year, the two groups revealed that tigers poached in India find their way via Nepal to Tibet, where skins and parts of the animal are used for ceremonial clothing, traditional medicine or as souvenirs.

Investigators from the groups revisited Tibet recently. In a report they say the trade in tiger skins and parts from India to China continues unabated, despite calls to clamp down on it.

Indian wildlife sanctuaries are home to an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 tigers - about half the world's tiger population. But in recent years conservationists have sounded an alarm that poaching by organized criminal gangs could lead to the big cat's extinction.

Belinda Wright, Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India accuses Chinese authorities of ignoring the threat to the tiger and turning a blind eye to the sale of tiger skins and souvenirs, which are often considered prized possessions in China.

"There are now new buyers in the market," she said. "These are Chinese businessmen and Chinese tourists and this is of major, major concern. The Chinese authorities have shown very, very little interest in effective enforcement against this trade. It is perplexing, it is almost like connivance, it does not take a few minutes for traders to show you fresh tiger skins from India."

The investigators have photographs of tiger and leopard skins openly on sale and Chinese police officers posing with people wearing clothes made of tiger skins at festivals.

Nitin Desai, one of the investigators who went to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, says the scale of the trade appears to be massive.

"The most mind blowing thing and most shocking thing I could ever see in my life was in Litang," said Desai. "The Litang Tourism Board had put up a huge tent that was made of 108 tiger skins. "They said that the tent is 600 years old, but clearly I have seen enough skins in my life, some of the skins were clearly five to six years old."

Environmentalists also blame the Indian government for failing to prevent poaching of tigers. Last year the government admitted poachers had killed 122 of the big cats. Wildlife experts say poorly paid forestry officials are ill equipped to take on the well-armed, sophisticated gangs that kill and smuggle tigers.

Conservation groups are calling for talks between the governments of India, Nepal and China to devise measures to clamp down on the trade - otherwise, they say, the tiger is headed for extinction.

A century ago there were about 100,000 tigers across Asia. Today there are fewer than 5,000.