(May 29, 2007)

India could support Chinese plan to lift tiger trade ban

By Nita Bhalla
From Reuters

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India indicated on Monday it could back China's push to lift a blanket ban on trading tiger parts if certain conditions were met to protect wild tigers and a new study showed their numbers would not be affected.

China is expected to ask permission to relax the ban at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species at The Hague in June. It wants the ban lifted for farmed tigers.

Numbers of the endangered animal have fallen sharply in recent decades due to poaching, fuelled by demand for Tiger skins and parts used in traditional Chinese medicines.

Beijing is seeking support from India, which has the world's largest population of wild tigers, to change the rules imposed in 1993 to protect the animals.

Environment Secretary Prodipto Ghosh said the government would commission a study to see if lifting the ban would be harmful and added that with safeguards there could be support for China's plan.

"Our position is that this regime should eliminate pressures for sourcing tiger body parts from the wild," Ghosh said.

Ghosh said China must take two steps to ensure the protection of wild tigers, and if these were met India might look favorably on the proposal.

First, he said China must have proper procedures for identifying and labeling of parts to guarantee that only farmed tigers are killed.

And second, the traditional medicine sector must inform consumers that drugs made from farmed and wild tigers are identical, dispelling the myth that the potency of drugs made from wild tigers is stronger.

"If they take these two steps, we believe that this will have a positive impact on conservation of tigers in the wild," Ghosh said.

China has about 30 tigers in the wild but has several tiger breeding centers or farms which collectively house about 5,000 tigers.

Conservationists say that if the tiger trade is made legal it would result in a massive surge in demand for parts and increased poaching in countries like India, which is facing a crisis in trying to save its own tiger populations.

Early results of a census of tigers in central India showed numbers were drastically lower than previously estimated.

Conservationists say pressure on the Chinese government to lift the ban is coming from powerful investors at breeding farms, who stand to make enormous profits if the trade becomes legal.

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