Tigers. Symbols of power, grace and beauty; cultures and religions around the world prize them. Unfortunately, so do the organized crime rings that play an increasing role in their illegal harvest. The black market in wildlife products, which also includes bears, rhinos, and elephants, is worth $10 billion per year, according to World Bank chief Robert Zoellick. This makes it the third largest black market, following drugs and guns, respectively.
Fewer than 3,200 tigers remain in the wild. Their populations are half what they were a decade ago, due primarily to poaching for medicine, but also to deforestation.
At the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Qatar, Willem Wijnstekers stated, “If we use tiger numbers as a performance indicator, then we must admit that we have failed miserably and that we are continuing to fail.”
Chinese tiger farms aren’t helping, say conservationists, because they have reignited the trade in tiger medicinal products. Although China does not officially permit the sale of goods from the farms, several investigations have revealed they still sell the illegal goods for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately (and somewhat illogically), the farm-raised tiger parts are considered less effective than those harvested from wild sources. This makes the wild parts more valuable. However, the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WFCMS) is trying to help solve this problem.
In a statement issued prior to CITES, the WFCMS called on traditional medicine practitioners to abandon the use of tiger parts. Its deputy secretary Huang Jianyin said, “We will ask our members not to use endangered wildlife in traditional Chinese medicine, and reduce the misunderstanding and bias of the international community.”
He added, ”The traditional Chinese medicine industry should look for substitutes and research on economical and effective substitutes for tiger products.”
According to the World Wildlife Federation, tigers face extinction by the next Year of the Tiger, in 2022. You can learn more about the plight of tigers here or do something here.