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Tiger bone medicine
Almost every part of the tiger is utilized in Chinese medicine. The whiskers are consumed for toothaches and strength; the eyes are taken to reduce convulsions and as treatment for epilepsy, malaria, nervousness and cataracts. Tiger noses are also eaten for epilepsy and convulsions. Tail is taken for various skin diseases.

Modern products include the Nourish the Ovary Defer Decrepitude pills and Only Smart-Brain Liquid. Crushed and powdered tiger bone is mixed in wine and soup. Tiger bone potions are believed to cure rheumatism and arthritis, strengthen muscles and prolong life. Tiger wine is supposed to bring strength, prowess and virility to any man who drinks it.

An adult tiger generally yields about 24 pounds of bones. Tiger bone like all mammal bones are comprised mainly of phosphorous, calcium and iron. There is no scientific proof that tiger bone offers any health benefits. Some samples contain sensation-causing arsenic and mercury to make users think it works. Many medicines that purport to contain tiger bones or parts actually don't.

Asians also consume the teeth (for rabies, asthma and penis sores), brain (for pimples and laziness), blood (for strength and willpower), skin (for mental illness), flesh (for nausea, malaria and energy), testes (for tuberculosis), stomach (for upset stomachs), bile (convulsions in children), and gallstones (for weak or watery eyes). Even tiger feces are taken as a treatment for boils, hemorrhoids, epilepsy, malaria, and ulcers. No scientific evidence says they work.

A bowl of tiger soup, selling for as much as $320 a bowl in Taiwan, is thought to enhance sexual prowess. Balms and pills with tiger parts are taken as remedies for rat bites, typhoid fever, dysentery, strong teeth, strong will, and to keep centipedes away. Some people eat tiger meat. They say it taste like pork except it is leaner and lighter.

In Taiwan in the 1990s, tiger penises and eyes sold for $1,700. Powdered tiger bones went for $500 a gram. Forelimbs brought in as much as $500 per pound.

Tiger Part Pharmacies and Sellers

Tiger parts are sold at Chinese medicine shops in China, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Chinatowns in North America and Europe. According to Eugene Linden of Time magazine: "tiger bone remedies" are "so ingrained in these cultures that it is not certain their government could control the trade."

Describing a Tibetan medicine man at a market in Guizhou Province of southern China, Patrick Tyler wrote in the New York Times, he "displayed his wares on a red cloth laid on the ground before him. On porcelain saucers lay his herbal delights: red angel hair from a Tibetan flower, yellow sawdust from a medicinal tree. And in the center of it all, the grizzled, amputated right foreleg of a tiger and other equally grizzled parts...Some of the skin had been pulled back from the tiger leg to expose the bone, which the medicine man cuts into wafer-thin slices with a hacksaw.”

After mixing some tiger slices and herbs for another customer the Tibetan medicine man said, "if you put this in liquor and drink it three times a day, you will have magic power in bed." When the customer demanded a thicker slice, the medicine man asked, "A thicker slice? How many wives do you have that you need a thicker slice." When Tyler confronted the medicine men about the illegal nature of his trade in tiger parts, the medicine man said, "This is a Bangladesh tiger. I didn't shoot it myself. I'm a medicine man.”

Zoos are often covers tiger and animal parts sellers. In December 2007, a small zoo — the Three Gorges Forest Wild Animal World — in Yichang in Hubei Province was forced to close down after two stillborn Bengal tiger cubs were found in the zoo’s refrigerator a week after a beheaded adult Siberian tiger with its skin and legs missing was reported at the same zoo. A total of seven tigers died at the zoo over a four year period. Three died from starvation in December 2003. Four others died of sickness or fight wounds. The bones and hides of these tigers had been kept and preserved. The deaths however seems to have been more the result of neglect (the zoo had 100 species of animal but only five employees) than deliberate attempt to make money from selling animal parts.

Tiger Part Trade

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Tiger bone wine
In 1995, the World Wildlife Fund estimated that most of the $6 billion in illegal wildlife trade was in tiger skins and bones. The tiger trade in India is believed to be controlled by organized crime that also is involved in drugs and weapons. They can make a profit of $10,000 per tiger, buy the tigers from middlemen and preparing the bones and organs for smugglers, who take the tiger parts across the border to Nepal, Burma or Tibet, sometimes by Himalayan yak caravans. Many are eventually smuggled into China and elsewhere in Asia..

As of 2008, a set of tiger bones sold for about $7,000. When the stockpiles became exhausted in the 1980s the amount poaching began to dramatically increase and took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s when tigers were poached at a rate of one a day, primarily to supply to supply the Asian tiger medicine and product market.

Tiger bones are easy to smuggle. Unlike tiger skin, they can be crushed and made odorless and can be disguised as other types of bones. They were traditionally smuggled by air and rail to the Himalayan towns Simla, Srinigar and Ladahk and then across 15,000 foot passes to Tibet and Nepal. Tiger part traders often say what a tragedy it is for a tiger to get killed but they are absolved of all responsibility because they did not kill the animals.

Much of India's illicit animal trade used to take place in the filthy back streets of Delhi's Sada Bazaar. In the 1990s you could get a cured tiger skin there for $2,000 dollars and 15 kilograms of tiger bones for $12,000. In small tiger part production factory, the bones are cleaned and bleached and the organs are dried and packaged. Poachers sell to middleman who sells to a dealer in new Delhi.

Skins of tigers and other big cats are also popular for home décor and as fashion statement. "Commercial trade of tiger skin stemming out of female fantasy and vanity appears as a major threat to tigers in most tiger range countries," S.C. Dey, general secretary of the Global Tiger Forum, said in 2004. In Asia, tiger skins can sell for $15,000 while in Vietnam a skeleton, the bones widely believed by Asians to be an aphrodisiac, can fetch as much as $25,000. [Source: Reuters, 26, 2004]

As of 2008, a set of tiger bones sold for about $7,000. As of 2005, the demand for tiger skins and tiger bones remained high. Tiger skins go for $15,000 a piece. Most of them end up in homes of affluent Arabs and the bones and organs to China or places withe Chinese. In Tibet tigers are valued for use in traditional medicines, ceremonial clothing and as souvenirs.

Tiger Parts Trade in the 1980s and 90s

Through the 1980s there was not a large demand for tiger parts and the stockpile of tiger parts was enough to meet the demand for traditional Chinese medicine. In the previous years the market was supplied by thousands of Chinese tigers killed as pests and threats to human life. For a while there was an even a glut of tiger bone products. When the stockpiles became exhausted in the 1980s the amount poaching began to dramatically increase and took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s when tigers were poached at a rate of one a day, primarily to supply to supply the Asian tiger medicine and product market. One of the biggest factors bringing about the sharp decline in the number of tigers has been the rising income in Asians. Many more people in countries like China, Korea, and Taiwan, who couldn’t before, now can afford expensive tiger medicines, which has created more demand and caused prices to rise on the supply end. These days many Chinese and Koreans have been educated about the costs of the tiger-based medicine but at the same time many more who are not educated about such matters or don't care are getting money to buy tiger-based medicines.

Korea imported 10,500 pounds of tiger bones between 1990-1994. According to Korean immigration statistics, 8787 pounds of tigers bones was imported d from Indonesia between 1970 and 1993. A tiger normally produces around 20 pounds of tiger bones. That means if the bones were genuine, about 435 tigers were killed or found dead to fill those orders. Eugene Linden wrote in Time in 1994, South Korea “openly imported tiger parts until July 1993, and its customs statistics...revealed that Korea was importing from 52 to 96 dead tigers a year between 1988 and 1992, even as cat populations were plunging around the world. Imports rose between in 1990 and 1991, suggesting that bone dealers were stockpiling parts in anticipation of the trade being shut down. Indeed, fearful of international sanctions, Korea finally joined CITES last year and banned tiger imports. But the country has failed to enforce new laws designed to halt the internal trade in tiger parts." [Source: "Tigers on the Brink" by Eugene Linden, Time magazine, March 28, 1994]

In 1994, the U.S. government found that 13 of 21 pharmacies it checked in Taiwan sold tiger parts. One of the most horrible photographs ever taken showed a tiger bound inside a cage in Taiwan just before it was cut up for food an medicine. A survey found dozens of tiger bone medicines widely available in Chinatown's in North American cities such as San Francisco, New York and Vancouver. Of the seventeen Asian pharmacies and supermarkets studied in "an undercover survey" in downtown New York in 1996, fourteen claimed they had products made from tiger parts. Stores and pharmacies selling tiger parts have also been found in Canada, Britain and Belgium.

Cracking Down on the Tiger Part Trade in the 1990s

Poster urging Tibetans
not to buy tiger parts
Taiwan and China have banned the sale of tiger bones. A U.N. conference in March 1994, demanded that Taiwan uphold an international ban on tiger parts but backed off on tough measures against China. Conservationists have worked with Chinese medicine practitioners to find substitutes for tiger-based medicine. One option si to it to substitute the bones of an Asian rodent called the sailong, which is common in China and reportedly offers the same benefits as tiger bone products. Dog bones have also been recommended as a substitute. Experts say that trying convince Chinese medicine users that Chinese medicine is a bunch of superstitious nonsense is a policy hat is doomed to failure considering its popularity and long tradition of use.

Sentiments to save tigers are high among ordinary people. Even among those involved in the illegal tiger trade, A Muslim butcher who was arrested for selling tiger parts told the Washington Post: "I am all for the tiger saved. He is king of the jungle, and once he is gone, the forest will go with him. Then we will have nothing.”

Periodically there have been bust of tiger part sellers that are similar to drug busts. In the 1970s, the den of one raided poacher contained 89 tiger and leopards skins.1988, Nepalese postal workers seized 550 pounds of tiger bones near the border as they were mailed to Tibet. In 1993 Delhi police recovered 850 pounds of tiger bones (from the equivalent of 42 tigers) in two raids. Four raids in January 2000 netted 12 tiger skins, 132 claws from eight tigers, and 385 pounds of animals bones.

In a raid in Srinigar in the early 1990s, 36 police burst into the house of Kashmiri trader and seized $1 million worth of the skins and garments made from 1,366 endangered animals, including tigers, snow leopards and clouded leopards. One Bengal tiger skin was 14 feet long. "People were celebrating and congratulating me, but it was a sad sight," the undercover investigator, who lead the raid, told Washington Post reporter John Ward Anderson, I never feel happy when I see it." [Source: John Ward Anderson, washington Post, November 29, 1994]

There are punishments for poachers but they are generally light and never even carried out. Many of the apprehended smugglers and dealers are never punished as there cases drag on the Indian courts for decades. One tiger specialist believes its the shame and inconvenience of the court proceedings is a deterrent more than the punishments themselves.

As of the early 2000s, only one major tiger parts trader had been prosecuted. He was found guilty but only given a short prison sentence. One group poachers who confessed to killing 12 tigers were expected to be acquitted after a trial that lasted for more than three years after they recanted their confession. It is easier to put offenders away in the West. A California man received six months in jail for selling a tiger skin[Source: John Burns, New York Times, March 15, 1994].

China and the Tiger Bone Trade

Indian officials have blamed Chinese medicine for “fueling tiger poaching” in their country. One reason so many tigers were poached in the late 1980s and early 1990s was that many Chinese could afford tiger-based Chinese medicines as the Chinese economy began to take off.

One reason there so many tigers were poached in the late 1980s and early 1990s is that there was explosive demand for tiger-based Chinese medicines that coincided with expansion of the Chinese economy Between 1990 and 1994, China reportedly exported more than 70 tons of tiger bones from 5,600 tigers (more than the number of tigers that remain in the wild). During the winter of 1993 it was estimated that about one quarter of the population of 400 rare Amur Siberian tigers, and nearly as many were killed in the winter of 1994.

Some people in China have suggested raising tigers in captivity — tiger farming if you will — to supply the traditional medicine market, but conservationist argue that this wouldn't work because there is no way to tell the difference between bones from captive and wild animals.

In December, 2002, one hundred rare Bengal tigers were donated by Thailand to China. There were reports in newspapers that the tigers were going to be raised like cattle for meat. One newspaper reported that a place called “Love World” on Hainan Island planned to offer tiger meats dishes while people watched tigers roaming around. Government officials said there was no truth to the reports.

China-India Tiger Trade

In the mid-2000s there was a thriving trade in Tibet, run by organized crime groups, for tigers poached in India and both the Indian and Chinese governments were criticized for not doing enough to contain it. AP reported, “Photos shown at a news conference showed dozens of tiger and leopard skins openly on sale, while in others, Chinese police officers laughed and posed with people wearing clothing made of tiger skins. "In China, the police have decided to turn a blind eye to the slaughter of tigers in India," despite tough laws against trading in endangered animals, said Belinda Wright, director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. [Source: AP, September 27, 2006]

“She said India has not put together an effective force to combat poaching after 12 years of talking about it. "It is the politics in India that is killing the tiger, the petty agendas and personal rivalries," she said. In 2005, Indian officials were forced to acknowledge that poachers had wiped out every tiger in one of India's premier reserves, and that Indian wildlife officials had long exaggerated the number of tigers across the country.

“An expose in 2005 by Wright's group and the Environmental Investigation Agency helped curb the use of tiger skins in Tibetan ceremonial dress, particularly after the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, denounced the practice. Now, she said, Chinese are buying pelts or body parts as souvenirs. "Chinese businessmen are buying it for home decor," Wright said. The market will continue to expand unless the governments take a strong stand against the trade, said Debbie Banks, head of Environmental Investigation Agency's tiger campaign. "The trade is run by highly organized networks who have far too much invested to let a few isolated raids and random seizures deter them," she said in a statement.

“During the investigation, researchers even came across a Tibetan ceremonial tent made of 108 tiger skins. Its owners said it was several hundred years old, but it had recently been repaired and several of the skins looked new, said researcher Nitin Desai. "I looked at it and said: That is the end of the tiger — 108 skins," he said.

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China’s Approved Sale of Endangered Animal Products Threaten Tigers

In September 2009, China approved the sale of products extracted from endangered animals. The Times of London reported: “The document issued by the Chinese State Forestry Administration, which is responsible for wildlife, specifies the trade and use of tiger and leopard skins “and their products”. Such pelts are traditionally prized among Tibetans to embellish robes for ceremonial occasions. But it is the three vague words that have sparked anxiety. [Source: ANI, Times of London , September 3, 2009]

Xu Hongfa, of Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network linked to the WWF, said: the words “and their products” "could be used as a cover by tiger farmers to make tiger bone wine and they would try to argue that it doesn’t just refer to skins.” Environmentalists warned that the move could boost trade in illegal potions and create a market for poachers. The Chinese State Forestry Administration had issued a document allowing trade in legally obtained tiger and leopard skins in December 2007, but with such little fanfare that it barely rated a mention in the domestic media. Almost every reference was subsequently erased from the Internet, apparently amid official concerns of damage to China’s reputation before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“The alarm was sounded by TRAFFIC, which said the wording of the document was loose enough to allow its possible interpretation by the vast tiger farms in China as a go-ahead to make tiger bone wine. “Indian conservationists believe that the rapid decline in tiger numbers in the country is a direct result of China’s economic rise and the related increase in demand for traditional medicines. Ashok Kumar, of the Wildlife Trust of India, a conservation organisation, said that any relaxation of Chinese rules would have a catastrophic effect on the Indian tiger population.

Tiger Part Trade in China

China banned the consumption of tiger bone in In 1993 and also outlawed the eating of tiger penis, rhino horn, and other endangered animal products. However China has been sharply criticized for the lack of enforcement of these laws and various ways to get around them. Jake Adelstein wrote in The Daily Beast, China’s State Council banned the production and use of traditional Chinese medicine containing tiger bones but it is legal to breed the animals, and at least 150 companies have received authorization from China’s Forestry Administration to sell the parts, including skins, of tigers that die in captivity, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency. “[Source: Jake Adelstein, The Daily Beast, March 31, 2014 \~]

“Although tiger-derived merchandise must be accompanied with a certificate from the agency, merchants routinely use forged documents and legal loopholes to “launder” wild tiger parts and sell them on the open market. A report in the Daily Mail says that authorities wink at the practice and may even take a cut of the illegal trade. Even government officials sometimes receive tiger products as presents. Since China's President Xi Jin Ping took office in 2013, the country has begun a crackdown on such office "perks," which have provoked an outrage among Chinese citizens for years. The resulting slowdown in sales has led to a cooling effect on China’s demand for luxury watches, expensive liquor, and other products associated with the high life. And yet, the market for tiger parts is doing “grrreat.” \~\

“Tiger bones routinely sell for a thousand dollars per jin, a Chinese unit of weight just over one pound. Liquor made by soaking tiger bones in Chinese wine brings hefty prices on online exchanges. On Sunday, the site Jiutouwang listed a 500 ml bottle of tiger bone wine for 100,000 RMB or about US$16,000. Ren Yabuki, Executive Director of the NGO Life Investigation Agency (Tokyo, Japan), which researches and campaigns against increasingly serious illegal wildlife trade and animal cruelty, notes that, “There are currently estimated to be 50 wild tigers left in China; it’s probably only a matter of time before they are all extinct. The area where the tigers are being eaten has a long cultural history of feasting on exotic creatures, thus the moral hurdle is probably low. In recent years, as China’s wealthy class have grown, people keep seeking ways to assert their superiority via their wealth, and paying large amounts of money to dine on endangered species is one way this is done. It’s greed expressed as appetite.” Yabuki also notes that as tigers go extinct throughout the world, China sees raising them as a good business opportunity. \~\

Tiger Farms in China

Although China has outlawed the consumption and use of wild tiger parts, commercial breeding of tigers for the animal part trade is perfectly legal. Tiger farms in several places in China raise the animals and display them to tourists. It is believed that several thousand tigers are being raised in this way. “Tiger” farms in China that supply the Chinese medicine trade are in violation of international CITES agreement which prohibits such practices.

Corrine Henn wrote in OneGreenPlanet: “Bred like cattle and housed in tight conditions reminiscent of the poultry industry, these endangered animals are treated like livestock. It’s estimated that today as many as 6,000 tigers are being held captive on these farms. Many of these tigers show visible signs of severe malnutrition and abuse. [Source: Corrine Henn, OneGreenPlanet, March 18, 2015]

“The rationale behind allowing captive breeding facilities to supply consumers with everything from tiger skins to bones is to protect tigers from being poached in the wild. The argument here is that captive breeding actually serves conservation purposes. Sadly, this population of captive tigers persists for one sole purpose: to supply China with tiger parts. “In China, there are as many as 200 operating tiger farms, some of which disguise themselves as sanctuaries for the tigers. Many of these farms are operated like safari parks and allow visitors to come in to see the animals perform tricks.

“Some of the tigers are de-toothed or de-clawed to perform feats such as jumping through hoops, riding on the backs of horses and balancing on balls. Other performances involve releasing a live cow into an enclosure with multiple tigers. Tragically, because these animals were raised in captivity, they have little understanding of how to properly attack and kill the cow, and at the end of the show it is run over by a tractor.

“When the animals are not being used for performances, they are kept in cages and “speed bred.” After a mother gives birth, her cub is immediately taken away so that she can breed again as soon as possible. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, tiger farms have a reproduction rate of 1,000. When tigers die at the facility, operators are supposed to “seal” the bones and label the skins. Some of these products are licensed for domestic sale and a number of commercial dealers work with farmers; however, many are illegally laundered and sold on the black market.

Impact of Tiger Farms

According to a report in the Washington Post, the rise of commercial tiger breeding facilities is actually encouraging a rise in the demand for tiger bone amongst the wealthy in China. Corrine Henn wrote in OneGreenPlanet:“Tiger bone is believed to have various medicinal qualities. It can also be infused in wine which is considered a particular delicacy; many tiger farms now have wineries right on their property. Once a tiger is dead, the animal can be harvested and the bone or skeleton of the tiger is soaked for a predetermined period of time before being bottled and sold. [Source: Corrine Henn, OneGreenPlanet, March 18, 2015]

“While tiger farms may have been created to slow the demand for illegally poached wild tigers, studies show that they hardly work to this end. Commercially bred tiger parts are more expensive than those that can be purchased illegally on the black market. Further, these farms take all of the stigma away from purchasing or consuming tiger in any way. What little concern consumers had for purchasing endangered tiger is completely done away with when they buy farmed tiger parts.

“Many who support the captive breeding of tigers see this as a viable breeding population. Unfortunately, none of the tigers currently being bred on tiger farms are candidates for reintroduction into the wild, nor do the owners of the farms wish to see the wild population conserved. The owners of tiger farms make their living off of exploiting and abusing these animals while they’re alive, and profiting off of them again once they’ve passed.

Tiger Poaching

Tiger poaching is also a serious problem. It is most active in India where there are the most tigers and has existed since the ban on hunting them was imposed in the early 1970s. At that time the main market was for tiger skins, which sold for a $1000 a piece in India. Hunters used to skin the tigers and left the carcass and bones to the vultures. Later it became more common to poach tigers to supply the Chinese medicine market. Today the price paid by traders to poachers for a complete dead tiger is around $5,000; the price paid for a complete tiger at market is $50,000; and the price paid for a tiger skin at market is $35,000

In many places poachers are armed with automatic weapons, which are effective at killing animals and people, while rangers only have antiquated bolt-action rifles. Sometimes park rangers are arrested for taking bribes or even poaching themselves. The poaching rates today are not as bad as they once were. The good thing about poaching compared to loss of habitat is that the tigers can recover of they are left alone.

In India, it is estimated that 1,500 Bengal tigers were killed in between 1986 and 1995, reducing the population by a third to 3,000. Poaching rates appear to have dropped off after 1995 but came back. In the late 1990s and early 2000s when tigers were being killed at a rate of around 300 a year, mostly by poachers. A total of 832 tigers are known to have been killed in India from 1994 to 2007. In 2010 half the recorded tiger deaths in India were from poaching

Most tigers killed in India were poisoned or shot by poachers. Many have been killed by poachers who sprinkled poison on a kill that the animal had temporarily left on the ground. One man came across a tiger corpse surrounded by 150 dead vultures that had also been poisoned by the tiger's tainted kill.

Many of the tigers are shot with ancient muzzleloaders by farmers trying to protect their sheep and goats and, in some cases, to make a profit. Middlemen pay hunters about $75 to $100 a piece for each tiger, which may be equal to a year's salary to the farmer. Sometime park rangers allow poaching for a piece of the action.

Sometimes hunters receive even less. Eugene Linden wrote in Time magazine that he met an Indian man named Raju living outside Nagarhole Park who was hired by a landlord to kill a tiger, "One evening last spring, Ruju, the landlord, and two other poachers hid near a water hole," wrote Linden. "At dusk a tiger approached within a yards. Raju claims he was reluctant to shoot it, but the landlord insisted. he promised, but never delivered payment of 110 lbs of millet — worth $5." [Source: Eugene Linden, Time magazine, March 28, 1994]

"Using a shotgun shell loaded with six slugs, Raju fired. So well hidden were the hunters, Raju says, that they had no fear of the tiger's turning on them if the shot missed. It did not. It hit the animal under its shoulder. Mortally wounded, the great cat tried to run but, after 20 yards, collapsed. The poachers skinned it on the spot." The police soon learned about the tiger kill by word of mouth. Raju was arrested and the landlord fled but was caught two months later.

Tiger Poaching in India’s National Parks

Ranthambhore National Park (near the town of Sawai Madaipur, a three hour train ride from Jaipur) has traditionally been regarded as the best place in the world to see tigers in the wild, both because there has traditionally been a lot of tigers here and the thin brush is conducive for viewing wildlife. The park covers 116 square miles (392 square kilometers) and set around Ranthambhore Fort, built a around 1,000 years ago on a 750-foot high rock plateau. In 1961, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (Queen Elizabeth’s husband) shot a tiger there while a guest of the Maharaja of Jaipur.

At Ranthambhore in the mid 1980s, it was not unusual for tourists to see nine different tigers in a single day. The number of tigers dropped 45 in 1990 to 27 in 1996. Today the tigers are largely gone. Some have been poached. Some are the victims of encroachment by villagers and grazing animals that right outside the park. In one notorious poaching spree between 1989 and 1992, 18 tigers were los, even though 60 guards were patrolling the forest. One group of poachers confessed to killing 15 tigers in the park in a two year period. Mogiya tribesmen around the park were paid between $100 and $300 for animals they kill with high powered rifles and shotguns. Poachers often say the tigers were shot outside of the park where they sometimes stray. In Nagarhole, a team recently found that a dead tiger’s claws had been removed by villagers. One tiger claw fetches $12 locally but is sold for 10 times as much in the international market.

In 1999 sixteen tigers were counted. When U.S. President Bill Clinton visited in 2000 he saw two tigers. In 2005, the number of tigers was half what t was in 1999. By the late 2000s there were only six. The tigers seen by Clinton were gone. Dharmendra Khandal told the Times of London that during seven years working in the park for the group Tiger Watch he foiled at least 68 poaching attempts as of 2012. He says the tigers are theatened as much by illegal mines, cement factories and goats that intrude from the park’s buffer zone. Ironically thouth tigers in Ranthambhore have recovered. There 50 tigers (25 adults and 25 cubs) there in 2012.

Living inside the park are about 100,000 people, whose animals have caused degradation of the tigers habitat. In response many villagers have been forced to move outside of the park. They have complained that "animals are more important than people" and efforts are no being made to direct money earned form the park into programs that help the local people. At another reserve, in Assam, 30 of the 90 tigers in the park were killed four months in the early 1990s. Boro tribesmen in Assam use the money they earn from poached tigers to buy weapons and ammunition for their rebellion against the government,

Poaching Gangs and Networks in India

In 2010 a 13-nation study by TRAFFIC reported that at least 1,069 tigers were killed in the past decade to procure bones, claws and skin. Of the 481 seizures analyzed, 276 were in India. “It is an organized, transnational crime. Tigers are poached in India, and the products move via Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, and sold in China, Korea and Taiwan,” said Samir Sinha, head of TRAFFIC-India. In January 2011, eight countries in the region formed the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network to clamp down on poachers and traffickers. The arrests in tiger trade are often of people who transport the material. The killer or the ultimate buyer are rarely arrested. [Source: Rama Lakshmi, Washington Post, April 24, 2011]

Rampant poaching reduced the number of tigers in the northern Indian Sariska National Park to zero in 2004, from 25 in the previous year. Reporting from there, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Wildlife experts say they're making progress against poachers. Notorious kingpin Sansar Chand, 51, who, with family members, is blamed for wiping out Sariska's last 22 tigers, is serving a five-year prison sentence. Chand and his gang reportedly befriended villagers at Sariska's periphery — Meena and others in his village of Indok deny they ever made deals with him — who then informed the poachers when a tiger attacked their livestock, providing valuable information on the animal's whereabouts. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2009]

“The Chand gang reportedly worked with smugglers in Nepal and Tibet, who used mules and yaks to ferry the contraband across the mountains into China. Chand, who often posed as a mattress salesman, sometimes transporting the pelts and bones in the bedding, was first arrested in 1974 at age 16 with tiger and leopard skins and hundreds of body parts. After serving time, he eluded police for much of the next three decades. His brother Narayan, who reportedly took over the family business about 2006, was arrested last month. "These are very good developments," said P.R. Sinha, director of the government's Wildlife Institute of India. "Still, when new kingpins emerge, we need to tackle them as well."

Though bureaucrats blamed the poachers for the animals' demise, India's equivalent of the FBI said the overarching problem was poor administration, incompetence and corruption that gave the thieves free rein. "Nothing's wrong with the place; it's always been an excellent tiger habitat," said Sunayan Sharma, the reserve's deputy conservator of forests."The main reason's been a failure of management." In particular, patrols and local intelligence networks weren't maintained, critics and insiders say, and officials were allowed to think more about their careers than their charges.

Demand for Tiger Parts Continues To Rise

Countries like China, South Korea and Japan have had success reducing the demand for tiger bones. But although the sale of tiger parts is banned almost everywhere a significant black market continues to exist. Demand for tiger parts in China continues to rise, threatening the animals and set back efforts to protect tigers in the wild wildlife experts said at an anti-poaching conference in Kathmandu in 2015 . AFP reported: “Around 100 experts, government and law enforcement officials from 13 nations attended the five-day summit, co-hosted by Nepal to hammer out a regional plan to fight poaching. Conservationists' goals, said one Nepalese conservationist, should not be limited to "zero poaching but (include) zero demand as well". [Source: AFP, February 3, 2015]

“While Beijing was praised for its efforts to save the wild cats from extinction the issue is so huge that it is diffcult to address suggested another speaker. "When you have a cultural perception among wealthy people in China that owning a tiger is a matter of prestige, you can't change it overnight," WWF's Mike Baltzer told AFP on the sidelines of the conference. "Dealing with demand will take a long time, poaching needs to be the focus otherwise it will be too late to save the tiger."

Corrine Henn wrote in OneGreenPlanet:“Every single part of the tiger is considered profitable in China. Displaying tiger rugs and stuffed animals outfitted with real tiger skin is seen as a symbol of status in China and many use these “exotic” decorations to accentuate their already lavish lifestyle. Slaughtering farmed tigers is considered a form of entertainment for those who are willing to pay the price. After these “canned” hunts, customers feast on the meat.

Image Sources: WWF; Save the Tiger; Wild Aid; Snowland Great Rivers Association; Wild Alliance. Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2022

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