Year of the Tiger: Only Good For Some!

Year of the Tiger Only Good For  Some!

Some conservationists worry that the coming year could be a bad one for tigers. During the Year of the Tiger there could be an increased use of tiger body parts in traditional Chinese medicine, a practice that’s now illegal but continues on the black market. So WWF has launched a new campaign to protect tigers.

ABC AM programme  (13 February 2010):

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Tonight it’s New Year’s Eve in China and Chinese people all over the world will usher in the Year of the Tiger with food, fun and plenty of fireworks. 

But some conservationists worry that the coming year could be a bad one for tigers. The fear is that during the Year of the Tiger, there could be an increased use of tiger body parts in traditional Chinese medicine, a practice that’s now illegal but continues on the black market. So a new campaign has been launched to try and use this year to protect tigers.

Our China correspondent Stephen McDonell reports.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: In the forests along the Chinese borders with North Korea and Russia, wild tigers move through the deep snow but their numbers are ever dwindling – some say there could be as few as 15 or 20.

Tonight Chinese people will welcome the Year of the Tiger celebrating with their family and friends but this might not be such a great 12 months for this endangered animal. Traditionally ground up bone and other tiger body parts were used in Chinese medicine. But in 1993 it was made illegal. Yet a black market for tiger parts still thrives, meaning poachers get big money for catching and killing tigers.

The fear is that during the Year of the Tiger some people will especially want to use tiger medicine.

Dr Zhu Chunquan is biodiversity conservation director for the Worldwide Fund for Nature in China. 

(Zhu Chunquan speaking)

He told the ABC that there’s a real problem in parts of Chinese tradition and history that’s led some people to believe in the medicinal qualities of tiger bones when genuine medicine manufacturers and hospitals here don’t use them.

(Stephen McDonell speaking Chinese)

I asked if he expected to see an increase in black market demand for tiger body parts during the Year of the Tiger?

(Zhu Chunquan speaking)

“There is that possibility,” he said, but added, “We hope that through Government, media and NGO publicity this could reduce the use of tiger products and hence reduce the pressure on wild tigers”.

(Sound of tiger growling)

Conservationists, scientists and Government officials have come together here to try and use the Year of the Tiger to preserve the animals rather than threaten them. Apart from public awareness campaigns there has been renewed scientific research into the remaining wild tigers – especially those in the north-east. The feeling is that the North East has the best hope for increasing wild tiger numbers. 

If forest habitat destruction can be turned around, corridors could be preserved to allow Chinese tigers to link up with much larger populations in Russia. This would protect the animals with a wider gene pool. Government officials have also made it illegal to hunt the deer and boar that tigers eat but not many people have been prosecuted for breaking this law.

Xie Yan is a tiger researcher in China for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

XIE YAN: For the tiger conservation, actually the law is quite enough because anything related with tigers is illegal and in the north-east of China any hunting of the prey of tigers are illegal. The problem is the law enforcement is very weak.

(Sound of tiger growling)

STEPHEN MCDONELL: The overall goal is for there to be more wild animals here by the time the next Year of the Tiger comes around in just over a decade. The other alternative…

(Sound of tiger growling)

STEPHEN MCDONELL: …is that there are no wild tigers left here.

This is Stephen McDonell in Beijing for Saturday AM.


Report from WWF International on its Save the Tiger Campaign:

WWF outlines the current top 10 trouble spots for tigers in a first-time interactive map that provides a unique overview of threats faced by wild tigers.

The map comes as many Asian countries and the world prepare to celebrate the start of the Year of the Tiger, which begins on Feb. 14.

However, there are only an estimated 3,200 tigers left in the wild, and they face increasing threats including habitat loss, illegal trade and climate change, according to the map.

There is hope though, as tiger range countries, conservation groups and organizations such as The World Bank will gather in Russia in September to lay out an ambitious agenda for saving wild tigers at a special summit.

“Tigers are being persecuted across their range – poisoned, trapped, snared, shot and squeezed out of their homes,” said Mike Baltzer, Leader of WWF’s Tiger Initiative. “But there is hope for them in this Year of the Tiger. There has never been such a committed, ambitious, high-level commitment from governments to double wild tiger numbers. They have set the bar high and we hope for the sake of both the tiger and people that they reach it. Tigers are a charismatic species and a flagship for Asia’s biological diversity, culture and economy.”

In the lead up to the summit, all 13 tiger range countries recently committed to the goal of doubling tiger numbers in the wild by 2022 at a 1st Asian ministerial conference on tiger conservation in Hua Hin, Thailand.

The map is designed to raise awareness of these issues and help tiger range states achieve this crucial goal.

Additional threats to wild tigers highlighted in the map include:

Pulp, paper, palm oil and rubber companies are devastating the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia with critical tiger populations; Hundreds of new or proposed dams and roads in the Mekong region will fragment tiger habitat; Illegal trafficking in tiger bones, skins and meat feeds continued demand in East, Southeast Asia and elsewhere; More tigers are kept in captivity in the U.S. state of Texas than are left in the wild — and there are few regulations to keep these tigers from ending up on the black market; Poaching of tigers and their prey, along with a major increase in logging is taking a heavy toll on Amur, or Siberian, tigers; Tigers and humans are increasingly coming into conflict in India as tiger habitats shrink; Climate change could reduce tiger habitat in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans mangroves by 96 percent.

Already, three tiger sub-species have gone extinct since the 1940s and a fourth one, the South China tiger, has not been seen in the wild in 25 years.

Tigers live in 40 percent less habitat since the last Year of the Tiger in 1998, and they occupy just seven percent of their historic range. But they thrive in the wild when they have strong protection from poaching and habitat loss and enough prey to eat.“We know that wild tigers need protection, prey and secure habitat, but these alone will not save the big cats”, said Amanda Nickson, Director of the Species Programme at WWF International.

“What is also needed is sustained political will from the highest level of government in the tiger range states and this Year of the Tiger, and at the summit, these countries will have the chance to commit to making tiger conservation work.”

A glimpse of hope

Although the map shows many trouble spots, there is still hope for wild tigers. New camera trap photos of a tigress and one of her cubs obtained from a selectively logged-over forest in Malaysia show that tigers may be able to persist in such altered habitats.

The photo shows the tigress checking out a WWF camera trap with one of her two cubs. Researchers from WWF-Malaysia working in the area have caught the same female tiger on camera several times during the last several years, but this was the first time they saw that she had become a mother.

The photos, taken around September 2009, were from a camera trap retrieved last month, and set on a ridge of about 800 meters in elevation.

“This is really encouraging to see a mother with her cub,” said Mark Rayan Darmaraj, senior field biologist, WWF Malaysia. “Such rare photographic evidence of breeding success magnifies the importance of this habitat for tiger conservation in Malaysia.”


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