China is struggling to save its less than 50 wild tigers even as the Chinese zodiac enters the lunar year of the tiger on Sunday.
Conservation efforts are honing in on the remote northeastern forests bordering Russia. There are an estimated 20 wild Amur tigers on the Chinese side. On the Russian side roam about 500 wild tigers where their numbers increased tenfold in 50 years.
“The number of wild tigers in China is very depressing...less than 50 wild tigers left,’’ Xie Yan, China Country Program Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the media in Beijing on Monday.
Xie said there were about 15 tigers in Tibet a decade ago, and 10 Indo-Chinese tigers in southwest Yunnan. “Now we don’t know how many are left,’’ she said. “The South China tiger is probably extinct.’’
In December, a Chinese man was jailed for 12 years for hunting and eating one of the last Indo-Chinese tigers in Yunnan. Conservation groups have put up posters in Beijing subways, depicting tiger evolution ending as tiger bone wine.
“No scientist has even seen a wild tiger in northeast China in the last five years,’’ said Carter Brandon, head of the World Bank environment programme in Beijing. The Bank is discussing major investment plans with the Chinese government for forestry management and training enforcement officials to save the tiger in northeast China. Brandon said the Chinese may announce the plan in September when a global tiger summit will be held in Vladivostok, Russia.
India has about 1,300 wild tigers — of less than 3,200 wild tigers globally — and the numbers remain threatened by poaching.
For several years, India has urged China to crackdown on illicit tiger trade, destroy stockpiles and phase out tiger farms where over 5,000 tigers are bred in captivity. Conservationists say that parts of tigers poached in India are smuggled to shadowy markets in China, Nepal and Myanmar.