Call for saving the tiger raised as China gets into year of the tiger

BEIJING: Wildlife conservationists have stepped up pressures on the Chinese government to do more to protect the tiger as the country went about celebrating the advent of the year of the tiger on Sunday.

Wang Weisheng, director of the wildlife management division of China’s State Forestry Administration, recently said there are 50 wild tigers – in four subspecies in the country. SFA believes there are 20 Siberian tigers, 10 to 20 Bengal tigers and 10 Indochinese tigers in the country.

Conservationists also questioned the government’s policy that allows tigers to be bred in special farms. It is impossible to distinguish between the bones of farm bred tigers and those poached from forests once they arrive in the market, they pointed out.

China allows breeding of tigers in specially designed farms. There have been sporadic reports of tiger meat being sold in certain parts of the country. Tiger bones are still widely sold in China because many believe they contain special medicinal properties and are ready to pay an extremely high sum for it.

South China tigers are believed to be extinct in the wild after the species has not been sighted for more than 25 years, according to WWF.

It is believed there were 4,000 South China tigers 1950s and 200 Siberian tigers in the 1960s.

Some experts have questioned the government’s method of counting saying the number of tigers living in the wild could be a lot less in China. There is an over reliance on pugmarks and other methods of counting at a time when hardly any tiger is being sighted, they say.

“If urgent and proper measures are not taken, there is a risk that wild tigers will no longer be found on Chinese territory,” Zhu Chunquan, conservation director of biodiversity of WWF China Program Office, told the local media recently.

The loss of habitats and rampant poaching of tigers and their prey – mostly for illegal trade of traditional Chinese medicine – have contributed to the drastic decline of the wild tiger population in the country, Zhu said.

The number of captive South China tigers (Panthera tigris amoyenesis) living in special farms have risen to 92 in 2009 from 60 in 2007. But all of them are offsprings of six wild South China tigers, two male and four females, which were caught more than 40 years ago.

All that is available is extensive inbreeding that will lead to genetic freaks and poor physical makeup, according to Deng Xuejian, a professor with the Department of Biology of Hunan Normal University, based in Hunan Province.

Some experts like Xie Yan, director of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) China Program, believe there is hope for growth of Siberian tigers in China because they are part of the big family of about 500 in Russia.

From TOI

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