China fights losing battle against poachers

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The Independent Online
CHINA now has less than 100 tigers in the wild after years of illegal poaching for use in traditional medicines. Demand for tiger bones and other parts of the animal has decimated the populations of China's Siberian and Amoy (South China) tiger species.

In China, the tiger is a symbol of strength and virility, and smuggled body parts are much sought after for Chinese medical concoctions in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Trade in tiger parts has been illegal in China since 1993, with heavy penalties for those caught, but this has done little to stop the illicit business. Nor has China's decision to remove "Tiger bone" from the official Dictionary of Chinese Traditional Medicine dented demand.

Li Yuming of the China Association of Wild Animal Protection has been studying the country's declining tiger population. In South China, he estimates the number of Amoy tigers in the wild is no more than 25, with another 50 or so in zoos. The Siberian tiger has faced a "disastrous" decline since the late 1980s, admit the Chinese authorities. Since the early 1990s, one-third of Siberian tigers have been killed to meet the demand for their bones and other parts for these supposed "medicines", said Mr Li.

It is lucrative business. Fan Zhiyong, an official at the Ministry of Forestry, said there have been more than 10 smuggling cases of tiger bones from Russia to China since 1994. The ministry has ring-fenced an area of forest in Hengdaohezi in the far northeast province of Heilongjiang, which borders Russia, as a homeland for about 50 Siberian tigers living in the area. But guarding against poachers is still a challenge.

Chinese people are entranced by wild animals, and television shows such as Toshiba Animal World are extremely popular. However, the concept of animal rights does not exist in China, and tigers are not the only animal at risk. In the northeast of the country, bears are caged and connected to tubes to be "milked" for their bile which is used in Chinese "medicines". Recent Chinese press reports said one bear was so miserable it committed suicide.