A China delegate at a CITES meeting last week admitted that China does not ban the trade of skins from captive tigers, the first time that China has officially acknowledged the allegedly clandestine trade. The admission came during the 65th meeting of the Standing Committee of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), held in Geneva last week.
According to the BBC, a participant at the meeting said the comment was made following a presentation of a report highlighting how the Chinese government had encouraged tiger skin trade for commercial purposes. A Chinese delegate responded: “we don’t ban trade in tiger skins but we do ban trade in tiger bones”.
“The report presented in the meeting created a situation that required China to respond,” said a participant who did not wish to be named.
“Basically when the meeting focused on the findings of this report, the Chinese delegate intervened,” he said. “It was the first time they admitted officially that this trade exists in China.”
Participants say this created quite a sensation during the Cites meeting.
Aside from the ethical faux-pas that is breeding an endangered species to produce decorative items such as rugs, tiger skin trading has sparked disapproval amongst wildlife organizations for another reason: the trade not only does nothing to help the big felines, but actually heightens their endangered status. An exposé released last year by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) argued that tiger skin trade in China specifically encourages illegal poaching of wild tigers, since the latter’s skins cost 1.5 to three times less than those of tigers raised in captivity.
Undercover investigations and interviews all contributed to the EIA report, which revealed that tiger skin trade from captive bred tigers is technically legal due to ‘loopholes’ in the regulatory system. EIA investigators were offered tiger skins during their research in 2012, which came complete with permits issued by the China Forestry Administration (SFA), who coincidentally run China’s biggest tiger-breeding farm.
The report additionally suggests that the trading of tiger bones, which have been used both to make wine as well as ingredients of traditional medicine, is still a problem albeit its 1993 ban in China.
International Consortiums on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) also took place as part of the CITES Standing Committee event and awarded China, along with Nepal and Kenya, certificates for exemplary wildlife law enforcement efforts. China’s certificate recognized collective efforts with Kenya and the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) in fighting an illegal ring’s smuggling of ivory from Kenya to China
China claims to have tigers’ protection and conservation interests at hands, but its direct contradiction to CITES requirements by allowing skin tiger trading, coupled with a sad history of animal mistreatment call into question the weight of the claim.
The estimated number of captive bred tigers in China (between 5 and 6,000) greatly outnumbers the sum of wild tigers left globally, a tragic 3,200. Wildlife organizations and experts alike hope that the admission will place pressure on China to stop the trade and take action towards protecting the beautiful species, which is vulnerable to extinction.
By Giulia Sciota