Asian demand for tiger wine and other products is creating a crisis for big cats across the world, according to a study just released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Words by Don Pinnock
Titled The Lion’s Share, it focuses particularly on how South Africa’s proposed legalised export of 800 lion skeletons a year is stimulating demand for tiger parts and derivatives – and endangering wild tigers.
Populations are decreasing across their range and there are only about 4 000 tigers left in the wild. The largest group is in India, where it is coming under increasing threat from poaching. The big cats are now functionally extinct in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and there are an estimated seven wild tigers left in China.
The demand for tiger parts is having an impact on other big cats, says the report. Wild leopards, snow leopards and clouded leopards are being poached in Asia as well as jaguars in South America.
South Africa allows both lion and tiger farming for commercial trade in animal parts. There are presently between 6 000 and 8 000 lions in captive facilities as well as 280 tigers in 44 facilities. Between 2005 and 2015 more than 4 000 lion skeletons were exported from the country, most probably being passed off as tiger products to Asian customers.
According to the report, the proliferation of lion and tiger farms in South Africa and the associated trade undermines enforcement efforts to end illegal tiger trade and stimulates demand for tiger parts and derivatives. “Given consumer preference for wild-sources tiger parts, this also sustains poaching pressure on wild tigers.”
With the legalisation of lion skeleton exports, it adds, there is also a serious risk of tiger bone, teeth and claws from South Africa being laundered and exported as lion specimens using CITES export permits. Since tigers are not indigenous to South Africa, there is either a lack of or weak regulations regarding their trade.
The South African quota for lion bone export followed a 2016 CITES decision to permit the country to sell lion parts. According to the EIA, the Environmental Minister’s rational that the sale would protect wild lions was misconceived.
“It fails to take into consideration … that its decision will stimulate demand for big cat bone products. It also ignores the failed experiment in China where the parallel legal trade in skins from captive tigers has not put an end to wild tiger poaching.”
The EIA urges the country to zero quota all commercial exports of lion parts and products sourced from captive or wild lions. It also urges CITES to add an annotation to its Appendix 1 listing to include all animal parts from both wild and captive lions.
“It is clear that a legal trade in captive lion parts is unworkable,” says the report, “and will likely have a detrimental impact, not only on wild lions but also on endangered wild tigers. The government of South Africa must adopt urgent action to end this trade.”