Tigers under threat from skin trade

Posted: 27 September 2005

Dramatic new findings reveal that the trade in tiger and leopard skins in China and the Tibet Autonmous Region (TAR) is seriously threatening the future of the wild tiger.

Investigations earlier this August by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) reveal the staggering size of the market for tiger and leopard skins - much of which is being used for costumes and ceremonial events.

Tiger skin costumes at Litang Horse Festival, Sichuan Province, August 2005. Photo: Wright WPSI/EIA
Tiger skin costumes at Litang Horse Festival, Sichuan Province, August 2005. Photo: Wright WPSI/EIA
Tiger skin costumes at Litang Horse Festival, Sichuan Province, August 2005.© Wright WPSI/EIA
Investigators attended horse festivals across the Tibetan plateau where many people, including the organisers and officials, were wearing costumes decorated with tiger and leopard skins, known locally as chubas. The costumes had been bought within the last two years and the traders categorically stated that the tiger skins had come from India.

Since EIA's visit last year, there has been a massive increase in the availability of tiger and leopard skins in Lhasa, TAR. In the 46 shops surveyed, 54 leopard skin chubas and 24 tiger skin chubas were openly displayed, 7 whole fresh leopard skins were presented for sale and, within the space of 24 hours, investigators were offered three whole, fresh tiger skins.

In one street alone in Linxia, China, more than 60 whole snow leopard and over 160 fresh leopard skins were openly on display - with many more skins rolled up in the back. The investigators also found over 1800 otter skins, which are also used to decorate costumes.

'End for the wild tiger'

The quantity and blatant display of tiger and leopard skins in TAR and China demonstrates a lack of awareness among consumers about the plight of the tiger, and the urgent need for targeted enforcement to stop traders from smuggling and illegally selling the skins of tigers and leopards.

Tiger and leopard skin for sale, Litang, Sichuan Province, August 2005. Photo: Banks EIA/WPSI
Tiger and leopard skin for sale, Litang, Sichuan Province, August 2005. Photo: Banks EIA/WPSI
Tiger and leopard skin for sale on the main street of Litang, Sichuan Province, August 2005© Banks EIA/WPSI
Debbie Banks, EIA's Senior Campaigner, stated: "In the last five years, the international community has seen the trade in tiger and leopard skins spiral out of control. If this trade continues unabated for another five years, it will be the end for the wild tiger. It is imperative that the Indian and Chinese governments stop this trade now, before time runs out."

Huge seizures of tiger, leopard and otter skins in India and Nepal indicate the existence of highly organised criminal networks behind the skin trade. They operate across borders, smuggling skins from India through Nepal into China, and continue to evade the law.

Belinda Wright, WPSI's Executive Director said: "This is the first time that the sheer scale and seriousness of the problem has been exposed. The volume of skins openly for sale is shocking. It is a thriving, uncontrolled market, which may explain the increased poaching of tigers in India that has left at least one tiger reserve devoid of tigers and four others almost empty."

In an effort to stem the illegal trade in tiger and leopard skins, EIA and WPSI, through their campaigns, are urging the Tibetan people to stop wearing endangered tiger and leopard skins, and for international organisations to support awareness programmes to get the message across. Both organisations are calling on the Indian government to create an enforcement unit to target the wildlife criminals, and the Chinese government to take action to stop the illegal trade in tiger and leopard skins.

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