Tiger population decline continues | Asia Pacific

Tiger population decline continues

Tiger population decline continues

Updated 6 January 2012, 11:30 AEDT

They can be fierce and seem almost invincible, but the number of tigers has fallen from 100,000 to just over 3,000 in the past century.

A new report by a wildlife monitoring network estimates that more than a thousand wild tigers have been killed for their body parts in the last ten years alone. India is highest on the list, followed by China and Nepal. Conservation groups warn that if the trend continues, tigers numbers will continue to fall. They will meet in the Russian city of St Petersburg this weekend, along with representatives from the 13 countries that have tiger populations, to develop a global tiger recovery programme that will aim to save the big cats from extinction.

Presenter: Sajithra Nithi

Mike Baltzer, tiger initiative, World Wildlife Fund; Pauline Verheij, programme manager, tiger trade, Traffic International

NITHI: 2010 may be the Chinese Year of the Tiger, but it hasn't been a very auspicious year for the majestic big cat, with new and dire warnings that it faces extinction.

A new report reveals more than a thousand tigers have been killed in the past decade across Asia to fuel the illegal trade in tiger parts.

The report by Traffic International, a wildlife trade monitoring network, says while a century ago there were around 100,000 wild tigers, today the figure is believed to be as little as 3,200.

And this could get worse.

Mike Baltzer heads the World Wildlife Fund's tiger initiative.

BALTZER: There certainly will be a few small pockets where tigers might remain, but generally the tigers probably will be extinct in the next 12 years unless we step up the act.

NITHI: The report says most of the tiger parts, including skins, bones, skulls and penises, were seized in India, China and Nepal and were destined for use in traditional medicines, decorations and even as good luck charms.

Pauline Verheij is the tiger trade programme manager at Traffic and the main author of the new report.

She says skin and bones are the most highly traded tiger parts.

VERHEIJ: Skins are being used for decoration in houses and also in traditional clothing, especially in Tibet it's been an issue for a long time, although that's decreasing now. Bones are being used in traditional medicine and in health tonics, folk medicine, tiger bone wine, stuff like that.

NITHI: The report says the trade is spiking across Southeast Asian countries.

And the borders of several countries, including those between India and Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand, and Russia and China, stand out as hot spots.

Mike Baltzer of World Wildlife Fund says efforts are being made to increase effective border patrols for tiger trading.

BALTZER: It's a very difficult thing, so we're working with border guards and border officials and inspection crews to build their awareness of how the tigers are being traded across the borders.

NITHI: And report author, Pauline Verheij, says while increased and improved enforcement across borders and trading hubs is the key, the demand for tiger parts should also be targeted.

VERHEIJ: Enforcement, that's the main thing, secondly, also very importantly, demand must be reduced and that means setting up long term consumer campaigns to raise awareness, targeted at specific groups that are consuming tigers, because those are actually quite small groups, so if we target the right groups it should be also possible to work on the demand side of the problem.

NITHI: All 13 countries with wild tiger populations will attend a summit in Russia later this month to try to stop illegal trading.

These include Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Laos, Bangladesh, Burma, Bhutan, Vietnam and Russia.

Along with heads of government, conservation groups, NGOs and other organisations will be represented at the summit.

Mike Baltzer from the World Wildlife Fund explains why the forum is very important.

BALTZER: The summit this month in Russia is really the last chance for the tiger. We're looking for the governments to take action and the donors to support that action.

The four day long international tiger summit will be hosted by Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, and begins this Sunday.

The aim is to develop a plan to turn the tide and double the number of these animals by the next Chinese Year of the Tiger in 2022.

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