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‘Thwart China’s wildlife diplomacy’

An international group of 35 conservationist organisations has urged India to not support China’s efforts to lift an international ban on trade in tiger parts, reports Madhur Singh.

india Updated: May 17, 2007 04:33 IST
Madhur Singh
Madhur Singh

An international group of 35 conservationist organisations has urged India to not support China’s efforts to lift an international ban on trade in tiger parts.

An eight-member delegation of Chinese officials is in New Delhi this week to lobby support from India, but conservationists warn that India is likely to bear the brunt of the fallout if China lifts its existing ban.

“There are simply too few tigers left in the wilds of Asia to risk reopening trade of any kind from any source,” says well-known conservationist Belinda Wright.

India is home to over 50 per cent of the world’s tigers, whose body parts go into the making of traditional Chinese medicines, constituting a market valued at over $4 billion annually. Its dwindling tiger population, despite 35 years of conservation efforts, has been a cause of serious concern. Illegal poaching and smuggling into China is recognised as among the most significant factors. This is despite the fact that China and India are both signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The CITES’ CoP 12.5 prohibits both domestic and international trade in captive-bred species, too. However, China passed a law in 1988 to allow breeding wildlife in captivity. It is known to have 4,000 captive tigers today, and claims it is capable of breeding 100,000.

This stock, it claims, can sustain trade as well as replenish wildlife. Therefore, China wants trade in animal parts legalised.

For this, India’s support at the CITES is crucial, especially as it is home to the bulk of the world’s remaining tiger population. India’s stature in conservation forums can be gauged from the fact that it has twice chaired CITES, which no other country has.

Conservationists warn that the Chinese plan is full of loopholes. Ravi Singh from World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-India points out that poaching a wild tiger is 250 times cheaper than raising one in captivity, and hence lifting the ban will encourage poaching. Moreover, he warns, tigers bred in captivity fail to adjust in the wild. In addition to India, China has also been lobbying Vietnam and Thailand ahead of the CITES meeting in The Hague next month. At the Global Tiger Forum in Kathmandu last month, it brought pressure to bear on Nepal to support its stance.

The Indian government is in the process of formulating its official response. However, National Tiger Conservation Authority head Rajesh Gopal, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting with the Chinese delegation, said India have expressed disagreement with several contentions of the Chinese side.

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