India seized the highest numbers of tigers and tiger products between 2000 and 2015, indicating that the country’s national animal is the most vulnerable to poaching for international trade.
With 540 tiger seizures, India accounted for 30% of the world’s 1,755 tiger seizures --an average of more than two animals per week -- followed by Thailand with 254.
More than half of the seized tigers were headed to China, showed a new report by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Most seizures were reported from Madhya Pradesh and surrounding areas and along the border with Nepal in Uttar Pradesh.
“High tiger population, porous borders with countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Tibet that fall in the tiger trade route to East Asia, growing economies and transport infrastructure in east Asian make Indian tigers extremely vulnerable to poaching for illegal trade,” said Shekhar Niraj, head, TRAFFIC India.
But despite the clear and present danger to tigers, the government maintains that its tiger conservation policy is working.
“We have 70% tigers of the world. With the highest numbers, naturally the casualties will also be highest. Despite these threats, our tiger numbers are increasing which means are policies are working. We are strictly implementing the anti-poaching and anti-wildlife trade laws,” said Anil Madhav Dave, minister of state (independent charge), environment, forest and climate change.
Traffickers were still exploiting a previously identified trade route stretching from Thailand to Vietnam through Laos — three countries where the number of tiger farms has risen, found the report.
To combat poaching, India has asked other tiger-range countries to share photographic evidence of seized skins for comparison with camera-trap images of wild tigers. Each tiger’s stripe pattern is unique, much like a person’s fingerprints, which helps enforcement agencies and tiger biologists to identify poached tigers and trace their origins.
Conservationists have also urged the countries with tiger farms – including China, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos – to commit to providing a clear time frame for the phasing out and final closure of these facilities at the CoP17. At least 30% of the tigers seized in the period 2012-2015 were known to be of captive-bred tigers.
Last week, Laos announced it would discuss ways to phase out its tiger farms after the country was highlighted at CITES for its lack of regulation and control over wildlife trade. Thailand has also cracked down on the infamous Tiger Temple and pledged to investigate all tiger breeding facilities.