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
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.