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New Chinese law aimed at curbing tiger trade

Beijing, China’s A new law aimed at combating the illegal wildlife trade in China goes into effect today, which according to WWF and other environmental groups will enhance China’s ability to combat the import and export of endangered wildlife species such as tigers.

The new law is aimed at complimenting an already existing domestic ban in China on the trade in tiger parts and derivatives. Since the country’s 1993 ban, tiger bone, for example, has been removed from the list of ingredients in official Chinese pharmacopoeia, all legal manufacturing of medicines containing tiger bone has been stopped, and all stocks of existing medicines containing tiger bone have been locked away under government seal. Reputable traditional Chinese medicine experts support this ban and use substitute ingredients that meet the medical needs of their patients.

Environmental groups hope that as China’s new wildlife law comes into effect, the tiger trade ban will also remain in place.

“Any resumption in legal domestic trade of tiger parts could be the final act that drives the tiger towards extinction,” says Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme. “That is why we call upon the Chinese government to retain and reinforce its important trade ban.”

A recent study estimates that tiger numbers may have dipped well below 5,000 in the wild as a result of poaching, habitat loss and a shrinking prey base. Most of China’s remaining wild tigers are found in the northeast, bordering Russia. While these tigers number less than 20, nearly 500 tigers live nearby on the Russian side.

“If poaching of tigers and their prey stop, China’s wild tiger population could bounce back quickly,” added Dr Lieberman.

Many experts believe China’s trade ban is responsible for ensuring that wild tigers are not further in jeopardy. According to records kept by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibited international tiger trade in 1987, the Chinese ban has curbed a trade that once saw more than 27 million units of tiger bone medicines sold annually.

“If the ban were lifted, it would undo all the excellent work the Chinese government has done over the past 12 years,” Dr Lieberman said. “China now has the option to continue to show global leadership in conservation.”

WWF, together with TRAFFIC, Conservation International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Save the Tiger Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society, have sent an open letter to China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to ensure that the ban remains in place. The letter reads:

“We hope that China, in the spirit of its new CITES implementing law and the upcoming 2008 Green Olympics, will reiterate its commitment to the 1993 ban of trade in all tiger derivatives from all sources, and thereby continue to play a responsible leadership role in protecting the world’s few wild remaining tigers.”

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