China and its friends push tiger farm idea

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    COULD farming tigers prevent wild ones from being hunted into extinction? That is the claim made this week by the Liberty Institute, a free-market think tank based in New Delhi, India. It makes conservationists fear that China is preparing to vastly expand tiger farming so that tiger body parts, used in traditional medicines, and skins can be sold on the international market.

    The Liberty Institute estimates that about 4000 tigers are being reared in a handful of Chinese farms. Chinese law forbids the killing of these animals, so

    breeders are supposed to wait until the tigers die of natural causes before selling their parts, says Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist for the conservation organisation WWF, based in Washington DC.

    Several conservation groups say that China may be preparing to lift such restrictions and start trading tiger parts internationally. It wants to open up the market, says Debbie Banks of campaign group the Environmental Investigation Agency in London.

    Barun Mistra, managing trustee of the Liberty Institute, says the grounds for farming tigers are sound. In a talk on

    China and its friends push tiger farm idea

    16 | NewScientist | 18 November 2006 www.newscientist.com

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  • www.newscientist.com 18 November 2006 | NewScientist | 17

    15 November in Washington DC, Mistra argued that commerce, not conservation, was needed to protect wild tigers. Mistra did not respond to New Scientists request for an interview, but his views, and the fact that he has worked closely with the Chinese authorities, are well known in conservation circles. He believes that by flooding the market with cheap farmed-tiger products, it will become uneconomic to hunt wild tigers, and millions of dollars can be raised to conserve them.

    China has been banging this drum for some time. Last month a Chinese official argued that farming bears for their bile has boosted their numbers in the wild (New Scientist, 14 October, p 6). The UK branch of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, based in London, disputes these claims and says that farming animals in this way perpetuates the illegal market.

    Dinerstein agrees. Describing Mistras proposals as insidious he says that legalising trade in endangered animal parts makes it more difficult to police the illegal trade. What is more, he says, people will still hunt tigers because wild tiger parts sell for more than those from farms.

    A Chinese delegate raised the issue at a recent committee meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). They were proposing the opening of domestic trade in tiger parts, Banks says. However, CITES is only concerned with international trade, so there appeared to be no real purpose in the Chinese move. The Chinese were testing the water, Banks says.

    To take advantage of the huge overseas demand for tiger parts and start trading internationally, China would need approval from other CITES member states, says David Morgan, chief scientist to the CITES secretariat, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Whether it could gain such approval on the grounds of conservation remains to be seen.

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