LONDON, UK, July 29, 2016 (ENS) – Today, 45 nongovernmental organizations from around the world are raising the alarm over increasing tiger poaching and calling for an end to all tiger farming and trade in tigers and their body parts.

Commercial trade in tigers has been illegal since 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, but it continues nevertheless. As a result, wild tigers are still disappearing.

The NGOs timed their warning for today as it is International Tiger Day, also called Global Tiger Day, observed annually on July 29.

Debbie Banks, Tiger Campaign leader with the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, said, “It is fantastic to see organizations from across the world unite in this call to action to end tiger farming.”

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Visitor to a tiger farm in Harbin, China, Jan. 2016 (Photo by Michael Pollak)

“Acting in unison in 2007, we had a major win for tigers when governments agreed that tiger farming should be stopped. But instead of complying with that decision, the governments of China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam have allowed tiger farming and trade to spiral out of control.”

“All eyes now are on governments as they prepare for the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES in Johannesburg at the end of September,” said Banks. “It’s the perfect opportunity for China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to announce real action to end demand for tiger parts and products.”

A hundred years ago there were an estimated 100,000 wild tigers that lived in central Asia and from the eastern coast of Russia down through most of east, southeast and southern Asia.

The Red List of Threatened Species compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, lists tigers as Endangered, with just over 2,500 estimated to remain in the wild, down from 5,000 to 7,000 in 1998.

The Red List states, “Breeding populations of Tigers are currently found in eight range states: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, and Thailand. There is evidence of breeding in China and Myanmar between 2009 and 2014, though these populations are likely dependent on immigration from neighbouring countries. Tigers may still persist in North Korea, although there has been no recent confirmed evidence.”

The United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific today marked International Tiger Day with a call for urgent action to protect tigers and combat illegal trade in wildlife.

UNEP is urging zero tolerance for wildlife crime as part of its 2016 Wild for Life campaign, which aims to mobilize millions of people around the world to take personal action to end the illegal trade in wildlife.

“Today, as we mark the International Tiger Day, the United Nations is calling on everyone to stop wildlife trafficking, through the Wild for Life campaign,” said Isabelle Louis, acting regional director, UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

“Everyone has a role to play in stopping the shameful illegal trade in wildlife, be they police, customs officials, lawmakers, community leaders, prosecutors, judges, businesses or citizens,” she said. “Decisive action against the illegal trade in wildlife is needed to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

The threat posed by illegal tiger trade was shown by the discovery of 70 dead tiger cubs, tiger skins, talismans and other wildlife parts in a Buddhist temple in Thailand in June.

The 45 NGOs praised Thai officials for uncovering tiger trade activities at the temple.

“We commend the recent bold enforcement efforts of Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), which in June 2016 seized 137 live tigers, thousands of tiger skin amulets, 70 preserved cubs and other tiger parts from the ‘Tiger Temple’ in Kanchanaburi Province,” the NGOs said in a joint statement.

“The DNP has announced that it will investigate other captive tiger facilities implicated in tiger trade. This represents a significant opportunity for Thailand to end all tiger farming within its borders and to play a leadership role in the phase-out of tiger farms in the region,” the NGOs urged.

UNEP said, “The commendable action by authorities in Thailand that led to the discovery of the dead tiger cubs showed the need for constant vigilance by wildlife law enforcement authorities to the threat posed by traffickers.”

There are international efforts to restore tiger populations in the wild.

The Global Tiger Recovery Program, endorsed by the current 13 tiger range countries at the Global Forum on Tiger Conservation in 2010 recognizes that, “Asia’s most iconic animal faces imminent extinction in the wild. In the past century, tiger numbers have plummeted from 100,000 to below 3,500, and continue to fall. Tiger numbers and habitat have declined by 40 percent in the last decade alone, lost largely to habitat loss, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, and human-tiger conflict. Three subspecies have already disappeared, and none of the other six is secure;…”

The 13 range states agreed to try to double the number of wild tigers across their range by 2022 by, among other measures, “Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in planning and development processes in tiger habitat; making critical tiger breeding habitats inviolate
areas within the larger tiger conservation landscapes where no economic or commercial infrastructure development or other adverse activities are permitted; and maintaining the landscapes and creating corridors around and between them where all permitted development activities are tiger- and biodiversity-compatible…

There are some bright spots on the tiger restoration landscape.

At the 10th session of the Sino-Russian Working Group on transboundary protected areas and biodiversity conservation July 5-6 in Vladivostok, Russian ecologist Dr. Yury Darman, director of WWF-Russia Amur branch, briefed delegates on the results of the 2015 Amur tiger census.

The census data showed that over the last decade the tiger population increased by 15 percent and has reached 540 individuals, Darman said.

And in Kazakhstan, plans are underway to restore tigers to a landscape they inhabited as late as the 1940s – the vast wetland of the Ili River Delta.

Existing tiger habitat covers about 10,000 km2 in the Ili Delta and along the southern shore of Lake Balkhash, about half of which is protected areas, wrote Susan Lumpkin of the Global Tiger Initiative, who flew over the area in 2014.

“Prey density is now too low to support many tigers so a most important first step will be to build up prey numbers,” wrote Lumpkin. “Fortunately, experience in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia shows that these species can recover fairly rapidly with some supplemental winter feeding and, most critically, control of the poaching that is rampant in the region.”

“Another essential first step will be engaging with the people who live in and near the restoration area,” Lumpkin wrote. “Although their numbers are small, they are all-important to the success of the program. Local people must reap benefits, because without the support, participation, and tolerance of neighbors, a large-carnivore reintroduction is bound to fail.”

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Tigress with a fresh kill in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India, 2010 (Photo by Bharat Bolasani)

“Protection, prey, community participation – with these ingredients in place, the first tigers can be moved to Kazakhstan,” she explained. “The plan calls for releasing at least two or three cats per year for at least five years, with the sex ratio skewed toward females to increase the probability of reproduction. The long-term goal, which may be 20 years down the road, is to reach a population of 100 to 200 tigers.”

India, which has more wild tigers than another other country, celebrated International Tiger Day by urging tourists to visit India to see the rare animals. India has 2,226 tigers, about 70 percent of all the world’s wild tigers, spread across 17 states and 49 sanctuaries.

Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave welcomed hundreds of students who gathered in New Delhi to celebrate International Tiger Day, saying, “A healthy tiger is a symbol of healthy environment.”

Dave emphasized that India is contributing “significantly” towards achieving the St. Petersburg target of doubling the tiger population by 2022.

Later, the minister flagged off the Walk for the Tiger, which was organized in collaboration with India’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, the Global Tiger Forum, WWF-India, the Wildlife Trust of India, TRAFFIC, Kids for Tigers and Aircel.

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