Tiger-parts trade thriving in Thailand

BANGKOK – Thai authorities are turning as blind eye to the rampant trade in tiger products, an independent activist group claims.

A report by the London- based Environmental Protection Agency (EIA) said that despite a United Nations ban on the sale of tiger products, Thai authorities were abetting a trade that threatens, in particular, the endangered Indochina tiger.

“Any trade in tiger medicine or skins is bad because it encourages poaching” the EIA report read.

It claimed Thai officials’ complacency rested on the incorrect assumption that the trade involved mostly fake products, making action pointless.

According to Debbie Banks, co-author of the EIA report, “Thailand‚Äôs tiger economy‚Äù, many tigers are being bred in captivity without the intention of returning them to the wild.

“We were frankly shocked to find shops in Bangkok‚Äôs Chinatown selling tiger products with ‚ÄòMade in Thailand‚Äô stamped on the box” she said. “There is incredible complacency here, Thailand is alone in the international community on this‚Äù.

The report noted that the world’s tiger population had dropped by 95% over the past 100 years and the number of sub-species had gone from eight to five with rampant destruction of forests, inept conservation efforts and blatant poaching.

The most recent Thai government survey in 1998 estimated there were 500-600 tigers left in the wild but even this appears to be a gross overestimate. A more recent “camera-trap‚Äù survey found evidence of only about 150.

Ms Banks said Bangkok’s fairly open trade in tiger parts threatened not only the Indochina tiger but fostered the demand for other animal parts.

Brightly colored boxes of tiger bone, tiger compound, tiger pills and tiger whisky are sold openly at shops in Bangkok’s Chinatown and in the famous Sri Racha Tiger Zoo outside the capital.

There also appears to be a growing international trade in tiger parts from Thailand, with many seizures by customs in Europe and North America in recent years. The EIA report said there were a number of Thai-based businesses producing tiger products for both the local and international markets.

Unofficially there may be 1000 tigers in Thailand, yet in 1995 the Indochinese Tiger master plan for Thailand stated that there were only 43 tigers in captivity in the country.

EIA investigators also found that live tiger cubs have been smuggled up the Mekong River into China, the report said.

Staff at the Sri Racha Tiger ZOO told EIA investigators that 300 tiger cubs were born every yea, yet reports have cited an animal population at the center of between only 180 and 400. “The numbers don‚Äôt add up‚Äù, Ms Banks said.

The report also argued that from a conservation angle Thailand’s tiger farms have little value beyond a dubious educational one.

In Sri Racha visitors are encouraged to photograph tigers next to a black couple dressed in fake tiger furs – even though tigers do not come from Africa.

Meanwhile, the EIA is to ask a standing committee on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – signed by Thailand 26 years ago – to send technical and political missions to Thailand to assess the situation.

Even in China – after floating the ides of selling tiger products from a breeding center in 1992 – subsequently backed away and emphatically banned the trade.

“Tiger populations are very fragile but conservationists in India have shown that if the will is there they can be saved” Ms Banks said. “The Thai authorities have yet to show that will.

Thailand failed to send a representative to the first meeting of the CITES tiger enforcement taskforce in New Delhi in April.