China is a CITES contracting party but should they be?

Tiger farms, China
Tiger farms, China. Image in the public domain.
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Yes, China is a CITES contracting party. But is China playing the game with a straight bat? Is China doing what it should be doing under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora?

CITES has some strengths. Its existence is an indication of the concern we have over the survival of wild species. But CITES is weak. Some of the weaknesses are:

  • It focuses on trade and not e.g., habitat loss, a major influence on wild species loss;
  • The CITES offices of the contracting parties are sometimes (frequently?) run by the same people who manage, use, and sometimes exploit the trade in wild species (conflict of interest). How can their reporting on the vulnerability of wild species in their country be accurate?
  • CITES can’t address domestic trade;
  • There are no guidelines for a non-detrimental finding (src: Wikipedia®). “Non-detrimental” means that trade will not be detrimental to the welfare/survival of the species concerned. Is Wikipedia® correct?

Anyway, it could be argued that sometimes CITES does harm because it presents to the world the impression that something is being done to protect wild species when the most high-profile animals such as the tiger continue to slide into extinction in the wild.

Tiger farm Harbin China
Tiger farm Harbin China. Photo in public domain.

Tiger populations are still declining everywhere. We know that there is poaching but we don’t know how bad it is. We clearly do not have a handle on the problems. China, in fact, banned trade of tiger products internationally, and in the domestic market in 1993, but do we believe that there is no trade in tiger products to and from China and within China? I am afraid not. There is a distinct air of the whole edifice being a sham. In fact, indianexpress.com say that China has the largest illegal market for tiger parts. If this is true it makes a mockery of them being a contracting party to CITES.

In any case the Chinese self-imposed ban excluded tiger skins. What kind of a ban is that?

Having visited China in March and April of 2007, the CITES secretariat reported:

  • a demand for tiger skins in China’s western provinces to be used as ceremonial robes. They reported on a lack of enforcement and education (although some education has taken place) to prevent this
  • that China cannot combat wildlife crime alone (is China actually combating wildlife crime?)

China has “captive tiger farming”, a phrase used by www.indianexpress.com. Apparently, there are 5,000 captive tigers on these farms. There are less than 2,500 mature tigers left in the wild (src: World Conservation Union as at 2009). China is pushing for reopening international trade in tiger parts that originate from its “farms”. China says that the 1993 “ban” has hurt the poor Chinese denying them Chinese medicine. Yet the people who work in the Chinese medicine business say tiger parts are not needed in the medicine and in the West Chinese medicine practitioners use substitutes to actual wild animal parts or so they say. However, China has said that it will keep the ban in place unless re-opening trade would help tiger conservation.

President Xi has openly supported Chinese traditional medicine while being fully aware that it results in the poaching of Bengal tigers for their body parts. No hope of any change therefore. Poaching for body parts is one of the major reasons for the gradual extinction of the tiger. How does this square up with China being part of the CITES treaty?

Does China give the impression that they are concerned with preserving the tiger or, on the other hand, using the tiger for commercial purposes? And if it’s the latter, why is it that China is a CITES contracting party? Is this an acceptance that this is the best we can do? There is evidence that the purpose of the Chinese tiger farms is to produce tiger parts for a range of so-called medicinal products. China is all about business and the conservation of wildlife is well down the list of priorities it seems to me.

India (supported by the international community it seems) wants the Chinese tiger farms to be gradually shut down. China says that breeding tigers is its sovereign right. This is not correct as the tiger belongs to the world at this stage as it nears extinction in the wild. Tiger farms are extremely detrimental to the tiger’s survival as there is no way of knowing if traded tiger parts are from a wild or captive tiger. The genetic history of captive tigers in China is unknown. It makes monitoring even more difficult (it is poor already) and creates an environment in which wild tiger parts are “laundered” in the captive tiger part market.

RELATED: Tiger farms.

Some of these tiger farms produce for sale Tiger Bone Wine. As at June 2008 the price is $240 (£120) for 500 ml (a bottle of wine is usually 75ml) – min order 1500 ml (three bottles). It is extraordinary that this product is being sold at wildlife “sanctuaries” in China. One is the Qinhuangdao wildlife rescue center and animal park (a little cheaper at the park at $186 for 500ml bottle). The center’s staff say the bone comes from dead tigers from the center who have fought each other. Believe that? See Bengal tiger facts.

Sensibly administrators at CITES endorsed a resolution that captive tiger sanctuaries should only exist when they aid conservation. What is the force of this resolution? Will China listen and act?

China is a CITES contracting party but do we want them as contracting parties when they are undermining the very principles upon which the convention is founded? Many millions of concerned people are becoming depressed at the lack of action and gradual decline of the tiger’s world population. China is largely to blame in my view. There are corrupt states close to China (China is also corrupt as admitted by their president) that can supply tiger parts to China such as Bangladesh (the place where there are the most Bengal tigers) and Burma (where protected wild species body parts are openly sold in markets and Burma is in breach of CITES). And see Myanmar is in breach of CITES.

The only way to ensure the survival of the tiger is to remove the demand for tiger parts supplying Chinese traditional medicine.

Some page on Bengal tiger conservation:

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