Experts suggest tiger breeding to quash poaching

Hui Min Neo Yahoo News 10 Jul 09;

GENEVA (AFP) – Dismayed by dwindling numbers, some experts say tiger farming can stem the burgeoning illegal trade in the endangered cat's pelts, bones and body parts but others argue that this will only fuel demand.

"Domestic trade in tiger parts and derivatives has been banned across the world since the late 1990s," said Juan Vasquez, a spokesman for CITES or the UN body that regulates trade in endangered species, adding that illicit trade was still flourishing.

"Since tigers can be bred very easily in captivity, the argument is made that they should be 'farmed' to supply a relatively inelastic demand," he added on the sidelines of a CITES meeting.

There were once over 100,000 tigers throughout Asia, but only 400 are thought to be left, according to CITES.

Not only are tigers threatened by the loss of natural habitat amid rapid urbanisation in Asia, they are also hunted for fur and body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Hank Jenkins, a former chair of a CITES committee, told AFP: "You can't address demand by prohibition," stressing that the breeding of crocodiles, once highly endangered, had set a valuable precedent.

"Since then the situation has reversed. There are now more crocodile species on Appendix II than Appendix I," said Jenkins, referring to the categories in the UN Convention on Endangered Species.

CITES Appendix I lists the most endangered species and prohibits their international trade.

Appendix II lists threatened species but allows for limited and licenced global trading.

Jenkins said the legal farming of tigers could also benefit people living alongside the big cats in countries such as Indonesia or India.

"For some people who live in these parts of the world, poachers act like pest control. Any conservation strategy would have to address habitat, prey, human-tiger conflict and demand," he said.

He acknowledged however there was strong opposition to tiger farming.

Major conservation groups such as the WWF are among the opponents who argue this would fuel demand and poaching.

"If you breed tigers, you will stimulate the market," said Susan Liebermann, director of the WWF's species programme.

For those who use tiger parts in traditional medicines, wild tigers are viewed as more potent than those bred in captivity and therefore this would not make a significant dent in poaching, she said.

"It's very expensive to breed tigers in captivity, it's easier to shoot one in the wild," said Liebermann.

The World Bank too urged caution.

"We cannot know for sure if tiger farming will work. And if it does not work the downside risks are just too high -- irreversible harm," said Keshav Varma, who heads the World Bank's Global Tiger Initiative.

"Having carefully weighed the economic arguments we urge the CITES community to uphold the ban on wild tiger products and for all countries to continue to ban the domestic trade of wild tigers," he said.

World Bank debunks tiger farming benefits
WWF 9 Jul 09;

Geneva, Switzerland – Experimenting with tiger farming is too risky and could drive wild tigers further toward extinction, the World Bank told a key international wildlife trade meeting today.

WWF endorsed the World Bank’s call for countries to ban tiger farming because of the uncertainty that it will have for the long-term conservation of wild tigers.

“Extinction is irreversible, so prudence and precaution suggest that the risks of legalized farming are too great a gamble for the world to take,” World Bank Director Keshav Varma told the member countries of the 58th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Standing Committee. “We cannot know for sure if tiger farming will work.”

Need to stop all trade in tiger parts now

“Stopping all trade in tiger parts, and phasing out these tiger farms, is of the utmost urgency if the tiger is to survive in the wild”, said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of the Species Programme of WWF International, “It is time for the world community to join together, with tiger range state governments, to stop all poaching of tigers for illegal trade, and WWF welcomes the engagement of the World Bank in these efforts”.

Because of the unpredictability of the market environment and the small number of remaining tigers in the wild, there is “no room for experimentation,” Varma, who leads the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative, said after the meeting.

“Commercial trading in tiger parts and its derivatives is not in the interest of wild tiger conservation.”

Tiger trade is prohibited internationally and banned domestically in all of its range countries, including China - historically the largest market for tiger products.

However, owners of privately run tiger farms and a contingent of wealthy business men across China have been pressuring the Chinese government to allow legal trade in tiger parts within China and lift its domestic tiger trade ban, implemented in 1993.

“Having carefully weighed the economic arguments we urge the CITES community to uphold the ban on wild tiger products and for all countries to continue to ban the domestic trade of wild tigers,” the World Bank statement said.

“We also call upon the international community at large to join efforts in providing the necessary technical and other support to the respective countries in phasing out tiger farming. This is the only safe way to ensure that wild tigers may have a future tomorrow."