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Problems of identification of camera-trapped tigers
Indian Wildlife - challenges in the new millennium
The greying of India
On the road to extinction
A Tribute to Rumbha - the elephant  
State development project threatens state bird - Sarus
Shahtoosh ban gains momentum worldwide
The road to disaster
Killing nilgais in the name of crop protection
Warring NGO's may spell doom for the tiger
Where have all the sparrows gone?
Cuckoos that fly out of crows' nests
Corbett park woes continue to mount
A question on post mortem examinations in the wild
Is it time to 'cry wolf' again?
Lifting of US sanctions may boost wildlife conservation
Migratory waterfowl may be hit by war in Afghanistan
UP wetlands to provide improved habitat to waterfowl
Anthrax as a potent wildlife killer
Man-elephant conflict takes heavy toll
Demoiselle cranes fly to safety in India
How long lasting are conservation victories
Fake tiger skins : a knotty disguise
Who cares for the wild here anyway?
A tribute to Charger - the long living tiger
Draining of wetlands threatening wildlife
Wildlife management needs rapid response units
Dudhwa loses another tiger
Indian Wildlife Board meets after five years

Hindustan Times, Lucknow | December 5, 2001


Fake tiger skins: a knotty disguise

LAST WEEK, wildlife enthusiasts must have been perturbed by two media reports pertaining to the seizure of eight tiger skins from different parts of the country. The first one reported the recovery of six full-length tiger skins in Kolkata on Sunday. Two days later, this was followed by news from closer home, that two persons in possession of two tiger skins and one leopard skin, were arrested on Tuesday near Noida, in UP.

It goes without saying that both these reports would have caused a huge amount of distress to conservation-minded readers, since it evidently was a pointer to the fact that another eight tigers, from out of the precarious wild population that remains in the country, had been done to death by poachers to supply the illegal demand for tiger skin and bones.

If it can be of any consolation for such readers, it may be informed that subsequent examination of these skins by experts has clarified that all the ‘tiger’ skins were in fact fakes, crafted out of the skin of other animals, and painted to resemble the real thing. However, adding a sinister dimension to an otherwise harmless-seeming trade in fake skins, was the disconcerting revelation that the leopard skin was a genuine article.

Which obviously bring us to the question of the extent of the illegal trade in tiger skins and bones, and why the seizure of fake tiger skins, and the arrest of persons dealing in them, is as much a matter for concern as the trade in the real thing.

It is common knowledge that the illegal wildlife trade is an international one. According to Interpol, the business is worth an estimated $6 billion a year, second only to illegal trade in narcotics. As far as the component of tiger derivatives is concerned, the supply comes mainly through poaching, which is taking place in almost all tiger range countries where the species is still found in the wild. But, wherever the tiger poaching may have occurred, its parts are nonetheless headed towards one single major destination, where they are put to end-use as ingredients for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

And if anyone were to imagine that the use or manufacture of TCM would only be restricted to China, he would be wrong. It is a matter of grave concern for naturalists that in spite of all the restrictions imposed within different countries by local legislations, or through international treaties like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), almost all the developed countries in the world continue to have a market for TCM containing tiger ingredients, and it is thriving illegally with the support of the unholy alliance between the manufacturers and the users.

This enterprise is thriving because there is no end to the number of humans for whom the tiger is a just a symbol of strength and virility, and they would go to any length to attain its prowess. So you would have any number of ageing Don Juans the world over, desperately seeking a bowl of tiger penis soup in a bid to fortify their sagging libido. Further, the myth of the magical healing powers of tiger parts, creates a huge demand for medicines for ailments as far ranging as acute ones like arthritis, rheumatism or skin diseases, to such mundane – but irritating nonetheless – ones like bad breath.

It is probably these patients who are the real villains, actually responsible for creating the demand for TCM, and thereby bringing the tiger to such a plight. As long as this demand is kept up, tigers would continue to be poached wherever they are still found. Although it may sound simplistic, there is surely some weight in the logic that the killing would stop only when the buying stops.

By the same token, the escalating trade in fake tiger skins is also very worrying, since it is a response indicative of the demand and supply phenomenon. It is because of the perceived demand in the illegal market for tiger derivatives, that fakes are generated. Even as a smart marketing strategy, the successful transaction of even one fake tiger skin would give the trader that much more leverage for dishing out other fake derivatives like bones, claws, nails, fat etc, all ostensibly coming from the same individual ‘tiger’.

However, linked to this fake trade in India, is another gloomy question that comes to mind. Could it be that genuine tiger skins are now too hard to come by - not as much due to impeccable protection and enforcement, but simply because there are hardly any tigers left in the wild? .....Perish the thought.