- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 9, 2007

THE HAGUE — China is considering lifting a ban on trade of tiger parts, believed to cure anything from rheumatism to laziness, despite growing concern that the action could wipe out the endangered big cat.

China told the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) this week that it would allow trade in parts from captive-bred tigers if a scientific review proved the step would reduce poaching and help tigers worldwide.

But conservationists and governments said Beijing’s move, under pressure from commercial interests, would only spur illegal trade throughout Asia and they urged China to better educate its people, for example to use aspirin not tiger bone wine.

China banned the sale of tiger bones and hides in 1993, all but wiping out the market for traditional medicines made from parts of the animal.

Illegal trade has, however, revived after the appearance of several farms that currently breed about 5,000 tigers. The farms have started offering tiger products and stimulating demand to force the government’s hand, environmental groups said.

“We have received advice that if we opened hospitals providing tiger bones from the farms, people would stop going to the black market,” said Wang Weisheng, director at the wildlife department of China’s state forestry administration.

“This will cut down the profit of poachers and smugglers. As a responsible government, we will launch a scientific evaluation of this advice,” he said on the sideline of CITES meeting in The Hague.

The conference will end Friday.

“If the policy [of allowing trade] can prove that it can help the tiger population internationally, we will adopt it. If the policy can’t help the wild tiger, we will not employ it,” Mr. Weisheng said.

The evaluation was to start in July, but he could not say how long it might take.

Wildlife trade monitor TRAFFIC and the environmental group WWF said China’s idea was dangerous and could possibly drive tigers to extinction. There are only about 3,000 to 5,000 tigers left in the wild.

China has about 30 to 50 tigers in the wild after decades of habitat destruction and killing for their parts.

Tiger bones have long been a valued ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine used in the forms of wines, powder, balms and pills to treat illnesses ranging from rheumatism to general weakness, headaches and paralysis.

India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan have expressed concerns that even the prospect of China lifting the trade ban would stimulate poaching in their countries, where tigers live, in the hope of supplying the Chinese market.

The United States also joined efforts to pressure China to back off from the proposal. The assistant secretary for oceans and environment, Claudia McMurray, said allowing trade would only fuel more poaching and demand and further endanger tigers in the wild.

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