Today as few as 3,800 tigers remain in the wild, seeing a devastating 97% decrease in just 100 years.
Why tigers are disappearing: The illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts, made worse by captive breeding facilities across Asia and alongside threats from habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict, has pushed this iconic species to the brink of extinction.
Illegal Trade in Tigers and Tiger Parts
The illegal wildlife trade is a $19 billion industry threatening the survival of species around the world. The consumer demand for tiger products, predominantly from Asian markets, drives poaching of wild tigers and has caused the establishment of captive breeding tiger farms across Asia. In order to satisfy growing demand for tiger products legal tiger breeding farms provide a constant supply directly into markets. This practice compounds the problem and further puts the species at risk. When wildlife products are used for status symbols, fictional medicinal purposes or as a result of human greed it is our belief at DSWF that where legal markets remain and operate black markets will always flourish
What are tiger parts used for?
The consumptive demand for tigers, their parts and derivatives come in a variety of forms; from tiger bone wine, tiger penis soup to the purchasing of whole tiger skeletons in order to crush the bone down into a supposedly curative powered, all of which have been discredited and disproved by scientists and medical practitioners around the world are some of the main uses for tiger products.
Used often to show status and impress guests or associates tiger products are seen in many far eastern societies as a premium product which further perpetuates the demand by adding a price tag and value to the parts. The mere existence of breeding farms and products sold openly in many countries does nothing to diminish the view that tigers hold a commercial values, something which needs to be urgently addressed and stamped out.
For hundreds of years, tiger parts and derivatives have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicines for the belief they cure disease and replenish the body’s essential energy.
The use of tiger parts for medicinal purposes has long been ingrained in Chinese culture and customs. Demand for luxury items, seen as a sign of wealth and as a status symbol, has also spiked and their skins are often turned into rugs which fetch high prices with consumers.
Do captive breeding farms reduce poaching of wild tigers?
It was thought, sadly naively and despite heavy criticism from conservationists, that the creation of captive breeding farms would reduce poaching pressures on wild tigers. By creating a managed and harvested resource to satisfy consumer demand, the justification was that there would be no further impacts on wild tiger populations.
The devastating reality is that captive breeding farms have not only failed to reduce the killing of wild tigers but have instead increased poaching rates and further fuelled consumer demand for tiger products. Wild tigers are seen as purer and more powerful, and due to the high costs of breeding farms wild tigers are cheaper on the black market for purchase, despite being sold on to consumers for a higher price.
The problem of legal markets
Unfortunately, legal markets stemming from tiger farms or within governments, make differentiating the source of tiger parts impossible and provide a perfect guise for illegally obtained parts to be laundered into the legal market.
If the trade of tiger parts was made universally illegal, the issue would fall into the hands of law enforcement agencies. An uncontrolled and poorly regulated legal market, which is what exists today, is a social, political, and economic challenge to fix.
Take a look at David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s position against the tiger trade in our Tiger Trade Statement.
Tiger Trade: What is currently legal and illegal?
The legalities of tiger trade are intermittent at best and although world governments have voiced concern, tiger trade from captive breeding facilities still remains legal in China.
From 1990 to 1993, Chinese consumer demand for tiger bone led to a rapid increase in poaching in India and Nepal. As a result, China banned the domestic trade of tiger bone in 1994 with the support of world governments who agreed to ban the domestic trade the following year.
However, in 2004 a note from the Chinese State Forestry Commission allowed a tiger farm to sell ‘bone strengthening wine’, contradicting China’s ban. In 2007, 5,000 tigers in captive breeding farms were recorded in China, more than the total world population of wild tigers.
Later that year, world governments agreed to phase out tiger farms as a result of the negative impacts they have on wild tiger populations. Nonetheless, China’s State Forestry Administration allowed the trade of tiger skins and tiger bones from captive breeding facilities to continue.
From 2012-2019, the DSWF-supported organisation Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed the commercial trade of tiger skins in China, which were being sold without authorisation from the State Forestry Administration. Chinese law continues to allow commercial trade in tiger parts today, which is exacerbating their trajectory towards extinction.
Other Major Threats to Tigers
Habitat Loss: Since 1950, the world’s population has tripled, and agricultural and settlement expansion is rising at an unsustainable rate.
This rapid expansion has drastically reduced tiger habitats – according to the IUCN’s Red List, habitat loss is now the main threat to 85% of all species.
Around half the world’s original forests have now disappeared and without a sufficient plan in place to minimise the loss of tiger habitats, it is more than likely that we will see the loss of this iconic species within our lifetime.
Human-wildlife conflict: The growth of human populations and land use has inevitably forced humans and tigers into closer proximity, competing for shrinking habitat. Tigers have fewer prey available and are forced to kill livestock in order to survive, resulting in retaliatory killings from farmers and communities.
How to Help Tigers
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