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US Favors Maintaining Global Ban on Tiger Products

The United States favors maintaining a global ban on products made from tigers, which have been hunted heavily in China and India for their skins and for use in traditional medicines. A House of Representatives subcommittee examined this and other issues in advance of a major meeting of the international convention on endangered plants and animals, which will be held next month at The Hague. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

In compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), China in 1993 imposed a ban on products made from tiger parts. China's action is significant, because it is the world's largest consumer of tiger parts, which are used in traditional medicines that treat such illnesses as rheumatism and arthritis.

The issue will once again be highlighted at a meeting next month of all CITES members. Chinese businesses have been urging Beijing to overturn the 1993 ban to allow domestic trade in tiger parts, from cats bred in captivity, for use in traditional medicine and for clothing.

U.S. Department of Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd Willens testified to Congress Thursday that the United States supports the ban and will actively work to persuade the Chinese government to leave it in place.

"We will definitely speak on this whether it is discussed in the meetings and in the plenary," he said. "And we will continue to work with all parties who have an interest in this to make sure that this issue is taken care of and we do not have an overturning of the current ban."

The president of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Lixin Huang, testified that since the ban, Chinese medicine practitioners have been able to successfully treat patients without using tiger products. But she pointed to the growing popularity of Chinese medicine around the world as bad news for tigers, if the ban were overturned.

"Chinese medicine serves a very large population, 1.4 billion people in China, as well as Chinese medicine is now used worldwide," she noted. "Therefore, if this trade is opened, the demand will be tremendous and a threat to the wild tigers is huge."

Huang added that she believes the only interest group urging the Chinese government to lift the ban are owners of tiger breeding farms, who stand to gain economically. She said the two largest such farms in China are in Harbin and Guilin, and have as many as 2,000 tigers in captivity.

Another issue expected to feature in CITES debates next month is the worldwide ban on trade in ivory.

Michael Wamithi is from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a non-governmental organization based in Kenya. In his testimony, he urged Washington to strongly support a proposal to uphold the ban on the global ivory trade.

"An ivory trade moratorium, as proposed by Kenya and Mali, would suppress demand on ivory and provide parties with the necessary time to tighten up enforcement and bring illegal ivory trade under control through enhanced action plan," he said.

Following a CITES meeting in 2002, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa were found to have sufficient controls in place to adequately monitor their elephant populations, and were allowed to have one time sales of ivory.

The Department of Interior's Willens said he believes legal ivory sales can work, but only, "if done in the right way, with the right government and the right constraints." He said he believes creating a legal market for ivory drives out illegal poachers and creates new advocates for the elephants.

"And it has been proven in a number of countries that legal sales have been a great driver of conservation, where you never had conservation on ivory before, and you only saw the illegal market before," he explained. "And now they see the legal market and see that it is a resource to be protected."

Meanwhile, Willens expressed concern about a lack of clarity in the CITES secretariat's overall proposed budget, and said the United States is likely to propose mechanisms to increase budget oversight and accountability.

He also expressed concern about the possible disappearance of several marine species, including sawfish, pink and red corals, and two kinds of sharks.