Demand from rich Chinese for Indian tiger pelts and parts used in traditional medicine fuels poaching and may lead to the extinction of the species in the wild, conservationists have warned.
Trade of tiger pelts from India into Chinese-ruled Tibet was flourishing despite laws banning the move, a report released in New Delhi by two conservation groups said Wednesday.
The Wildlife Protection Agency and Environment Investigation Agency estimate only 1,500 to 2,000 wild Royal Bengal Tigers are left in India. Collusion between poachers, government officials and buyers could lead to their rapid extinction unless quick action was taken.
Between 3,500 and 3,700 Indian tigers remain in the wild in India, according to official government estimates, down from about 40,000 tigers before India's 1947 independence from Britain.
"The clock is ticking for the tiger and there is only so much more
talking we can do, the time for action is now, before the tiger
vanishes," Belinda Wright, head of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said in a statement.
"In China it is politicians who have decided to turn a blind eye to smuggling from India," Wright also told a press conference.
"We have evidence that there is even connivance. There is a small group of people in the Chinese government who want to open up the trade in parts."
The two groups visited Lhasa and Litang in Tibet in July and August this year to follow up on their 2005 expose of the sale of tiger skins there.
"The situation was almost similar to what it was last year," said
conservationist Nitin Desai, also with the Wildlife Protection Society of India, adding that traders showed "little hesitation" in showing the skins.
The skins can sell for as much as 16,000 US dollars, a report compiled by the two groups said.
Desai said fewer Tibetans were purchasing and sporting tiger skins on their traditional costumes at festivals this year after an emotional appeal by their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in March.
But poaching had not declined as affluent Chinese consumers were buying the skins for their homes, the report said.
In India, lax enforcement has meant that poachers could work unimpeded.
The Indian parliament a month ago finally gave the go-ahead for the creation of a federal agency to save endangered tigers and a separate body to probe wildlife-related crimes.
Last year, the government admitted in court that poachers had killed 122 of the endangered big cats in India between 1999 and 2003, despite a 34-year-old conservation program.
Between 3,500 and 3,700 Indian tigers remain in the wild in India,
according to official government estimates, down from about 40,000
tigers before India's 1947 independence from Britain.
Tiger hunting is illegal worldwide and both India and China have signed a treaty binding 167 countries that bans trade in tiger skins, claws and other products often wanted for use in traditional Chinese medicine.