Wildlife enthusiasts will be elated to hear that 70 per cent of the participating nations, including India, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meet being held in The Hague, have rejected China’s proposal to lift the 14-year-old ban on trade of tiger parts. The decision also said that countries with intensive breeding operations should limit numbers to “a level supportive only to conserving wild tigers”. Private tiger farms in China have bred nearly 5,000 tigers and were putting pressure on the government to legalise the trade in tiger parts. The argument is that the captive tigers will meet the demands of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) users. But TCM practitioners worldwide have rejected this. Experts have warned that if the big cats are to survive, governments must stop all trade in tiger products, as well as shore up efforts to conserve the species and their habitats.
In a welcome development, Indian government representatives at CITES did a good job of derailing China’s plans. Experts had been worried that the government, “in a stroke of temporary insanity”, would endorse China’s proposal and thereby take the pressure off fence-sitting nations. In a strongly-worded intervention, India made it clear that in-situ conservation has brought tigers back from the brink of extinction and the ban on trade in parts and derivatives of wild animals has helped the species survive. The question now is what China will do with its 5,000 captive tigers.
What we need now are stringent measures to see that The Hague decision does not fall by the wayside. The Wildlife Institute of India’s interim report says that there has been a sharp drop in tiger numbers. To turn the clock back, the government needs to secure the tiger’s breeding habitats, make the national wildlife crime bureau operational and set up a specialised anti-poaching force. It also needs to encourage wildlife research, independent audits and open lines of communication between the Ministry of Environment and Forests and NGO experts. At the international level, India must take the lead in developing and improving the implementation of regional enforcement networks and help establish a mechanism to monitor and evaluate the scale and nature of the illegal trade in big cats.