The new patrons of illegal trade in tiger and leopard body parts from India are Chinese military officials, a London-based NGO has found.
“Wildlife traders told us that Chinese military officials were buying tiger and leopard skins for putting them up in their homes or for official purposes,” said Debbie Banks of Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which visited China in August 2009 to investigate the illegal trade.
This year alone, 75 tiger deaths have been reported in India, the maximum since 2001, according to NGO Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). “Tiger poaching cases reported this year (2009) are also the maximum in the last three years,” said Belinda Wright, executive director of WPSI, which partnered in the investigation.
The EIA photographed tiger and leopard skin and body parts in Lhasa and in Xining, Linxia, Shigatse and Nagchu provinces, but their visibility in markets had gone down since 2004, when the first such probe was held.
Investigators spotted 27 tiger, leopard and snow leopard skins in these markets. Many of them — all from India — were less than a year old.
In Lhasa, investigators found that Tibetans shunned tiger skins after a call by Dalai Lama, but Banks said, “Most of the business has gone underground, with rich Han Chinese from Beijing and Shanghai ordering tiger skins as decorative items.”
A huge jump in prices of tiger body parts in the last couple of years had made the business highly lucrative.
A full tiger skin in China costs between $11,660 and $21,860 (Rs 541,000-Rs 1 million), while a leopard skin fetches $1,020-$2,770 (Rs 47,000- Rs 129,000).