There has been a sudden jump in online sale of tiger and leopard skins since China reopened the trade for registered wildlife body parts in 2007.
A tiger skin rug was offered for sale for US $ 124,000 and a stuffed tiger for US $ 700,000 in 2010. In addition, sale of leopard skins ranged between US $ 100,000 to US $ 300,000. China has not officially declared how many skins have been traded.
Details become public before a United Nations sponsored global meeting on wildlife trade starting from Monday in Geneva causing an alarm in India. “It is an issue of concern for us as most of the tigers and leopards are found here,” said a senior environment ministry official.
India as per latest tiger census has 1,706 big cats. Although there is no official estimation of leopard population, there number range between 5,000 to 10,000. In 2010, 180 leopards were killed in India, as per data available with NGO Wildlife Protection Society of India.
China first allowed registration of tiger and leopard body-parts under its registration scheme from authorised sources and now has allowed its trade. The Scheme allows for tiger and leopard skins from ‘legal origins’, including those from captive-bred big cats, to be registered, labelled and sold.
“This provides perfect cover for illegal skins to be laundered and seriously undermines China’s promise to ban the trade,” said Debbie Banks, who heads the tiger campaign at UK based Environment Investigation Agency (EIA).
The EIA fear was confirmed when it found that several tiger and leopard skins were being traded online and origin of most of these skins was said to be China, which has just 50 tigers in wild and 5,000 in tiger farms. “We sought information from China but there was no response. We fear that big cat skins being offered may be coming from India,” Banks said. Till the scheme was launched there was negligible online sale of tiger and leopard skins.
Environment ministry officials, however, did not rule out this possibility but said poaching in India has reduced because of increased vigilance but still illegal wildlife trade through north-eastern India was rampant.
The ministry with NGOs from UK and US will raise the issue at the meeting of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Standing Committee in Geneva, a UN body mandated to regulate wildlife trade.
The weeklong meeting starts on Monday.