THE TRADE IN TIGER PARTS
The single greatest threat of extinction that looms over most Asian wildlife especially the endangered tiger, and pushes them to become endangered species, are the massive demands for traditional medicine.
The annual consumption of traditional remedies made of tiger bone, bear gall bladder, rhinoceros horn, dried geckoes and a plethora of other animal parts is of phenomenal proportions. It is believed that today at least 60 per cent of China’s billion-plus inhabitants use medicines of this type.
The booming economies and personal incomes of Southeast Asia have caused demand and prices to soar, lifting the international trade in wildlife products to an estimated $6 billion-a-year business.
Why is there this demand?
The use of tiger parts in Chinese medicine is nothing new, but it has only been in recent years that the increase in the standard of living in southeast Asia has made these remedies available to most people.
It is no wonder then that this newly affluent population has had a great effect on wildlife numbers and the demand for tiger parts. In many places in China, tiger parts are a delicacy that is served at special private banquets.
The use of endangered tiger products and their medicines is seen as a symbol of high status and wealth. Some remedies list tiger parts as an ingredient, but the real animal parts are so expensive that often the medicines may have only trace elements; but even this is enough to promote the continued slaughter of the tiger.
In addition, in recent years there has been a resurgence in traditional practices fundamental to the history of Chinese society. This has been fueled by cultural pride, and a growing sentiment that western medicine contains some shortcomings in treating illness.
Furthermore, new communities around the globe including non-Asian communities, are supplementing traditional Chinese medicine treatments into their western style of medicine, igniting the demand for tiger parts beyond what can be supplied.
Who is Using Tiger Parts? Countries and Statistics
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) believes that at least one tiger is killed daily for its use in traditional Chinese medicine.
An increased demand for endangered tiger parts exists throughout the world. China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Great Britain are involved in the tiger trade. One of the biggest markets for endangered tiger parts is Japan where legislation bans trade in endangered species, but does not cover products not readily recognizable, such as wine, pills and powders.
Hong Kong is the main importer of Chinese tiger products, accounting for nearly half of its annual business.
Although they are scarce, trade records indicate the import and export of tiger parts is substantial. The Zoological Society of London believes at least 1,900 kg of tiger bone were exported to Japan from Taiwan in 1990, an equivalent to 400-500 tigers.
According to South Korean immigration statistics, the country imported 3,994 kilograms (8787 pounds) of tiger bones from Indonesia between 1970 and 1993. The bones of one tiger weigh approximately 10 kilograms (22 pounds).
Due to increased demand, tiger bone prices have skyrocketed in South Korea, Taiwan and many other countries. The price is estimated to be between $140-$370 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) in U.S. dollars depending on the size of the bones.
In Taiwan, a bowl of tiger penis soup (to boost virility) goes for $320, and a pair of eyes (to fight epilepsy and malaria) for $170. Powdered tiger humerus bone (for treating ulcers rheumatism and typhoid) brings up to $1,450 lb. in Seoul.
Consuming tiger parts for medicinal purposes is not limited to Asia. A recent World Wildlife Fund investigation in England of Chinese chemists, craft shops and supermarkets in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool showed that half the shops sold products claiming to contain tiger bone.
The rising demand for tiger parts and rapid increase in price of tiger bone continues to be an irresistible incentive to poachers.
Who is Supplying the Demand?
Even though China has participated as a member in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, (CITES) since 1981, the laws are widely ignored and it remains the primary destination for Indian tiger parts. In 1995, in India alone, parts from 50 different tigers were discovered. Scientist suggest this number can be multiplied by a factor of five or six to reach the true figure.
Since China has almost eradicated its own tiger population it is now looking for a new supply of tigers from Bangladesh and Nepal. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that one-third of the breeding-age female tigers were lost between 1989 and 1991 in this area.
In Burma, hunting tigers is still legal. Burma, Lao PDR and Cambodia are not signatories to the CITES. Tigers in Vietnam and Malaysia continue to be hunted as well. One can buy tiger bones, skins or organs at Hanoi airport. Regardless of the extent to which the trade is policed, bits of tiger especially blood, eyeballs and genitals appear wherever there is demand.
Russia has also become a key supplier in the tiger trade due to political, economic and social instability. Poaching one tiger can bring in 10 years’ income on the black market. It is estimated that in 1991, one-third of the Siberian or Amur tigers were killed to meet the demand for traditional Chinese medicines elsewhere.
Researchers and scientist believe poaching is alive and well despite many laws prohibiting the hunting and trade of endangered species.
How Much Does Tiger Poaching for Chinese Medicine Affect the Population?
A research project designed to model the effects of tiger poaching in Russia and India by John S. Kenney of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has determined via computer modeling that even a small increase in poaching drastically increases the threat of the endangered tigers’ extinction.
To make the model, the scientists used data collected for over 20 years on the survival rates and behavior of tigers in Nepal’s Royal Chitwan National Park. In addition, they estimated that every normal-sized tiger group worldwide loses 5 to 10 of its 120 or so members to poaching each year. They then used the model to predict effects of different poaching patterns.
The model predicts, If poachers killed 10 of the animals in a tiger group every year for three years, the group would have less than a 20 percent chance of extinction in the 75 years after poaching stopped. Destroying 15 tigers a year for 3 years however, bumps the probability of extinction up to 50 percent. If poachers kill 15 tigers in a group each year for six years, or 10 animals for nine years, this will destroy the group.
If poaching continues at its current rate, researchers have predicted that many if not all the tiger clans will be wiped out in the near future.
Tiger populations can appear stable yet fail to withstand an unexpected disaster, such as bad weather, disease or reproductive problems. Add to this the devastating loses the populations suffer due to poaching and one can see that the challenges the endangered tiger faces will be extremely difficult to overcome in order to survive.
Have Efforts to Curb the Trade in Tiger Parts Worked?
Several Asian nations including China, Nepal, Japan, South Korea and Thailand have endorsed tough protections for tigers in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The measures commit the countries to enact laws banning the trade of tiger derivatives, preserve tiger habitat, and form a regional network to halt tiger trade. But lack of government resolve and corruption at the highest levels have thwarted enforcement of other wildlife agreements that the nations have signed.
The popularity of tiger bones as a remedy for a multitude of ailments has produced a thriving black market, which is very difficult to monitor. Unlike a tiger skin, tiger bones can be crushed and made odorless and can be disguised as other types of bones. Tiger derivatives that are confiscated in raids by government officials are therefore believed to be just the tip of the iceberg.
The trade in tiger body parts is thought to have intensified as a result of a rapid increase in the demand for traditional Chinese medicine in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.
Despite the acceptance of new trade policies in China, it still remains a principle player in the demise of the tiger and other endangered species. Other countries such as Taiwan have stepped up enforcement efforts since coming under pressure from the United States in 1993-1994.
In Taiwan, a recent trade control law has resulted in raids and seizures, prosecutions, extensive searches of Chinese medicine stores, and customs surveillance and coordination with other relevant authorities. Hong Kong has also intensified its enforcement activities, following its 1994 trade control laws.
But, such policing efforts in Asian countries touch only a small percentage of Chinese medicine stores, and often owners get word of a “raid” in time to hide or disperse any tiger parts they may have in stock.
Because the demand for tiger products continues to grow, and poaching is still prominent in India, Russia and southeast Asia additional measures need to implemented to curb both the supple and the demand for endangered tiger parts.