Beijing/Mumbai, Sep.3 (ANI): The world's dwindling population of tigers could be pushed closer to extinction after China approved the sale of products extracted from endangered animals.
The latest document issued by the Chinese State Forestry Administration, which is responsible for wildlife, specifies the trade and use of tiger and leopard skins "and their products".
Such pelts are traditionally prized among Tibetans to embellish robes for ceremonial occasions. But it is the three vague words that have sparked anxiety.
The Times quoted Xu Hongfa, of Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network linked to the WWF, as saying: "I think these words could be used as a cover by tiger farmers to make tiger bone wine and they would try to argue that it doesn't just refer to skins."
Environmentalists warned yesterday that the move could boost trade in illegal potions and create a market for poachers preying on the rare animals as far away as India.
Tiger tonics, such as wine made from ground bones, are regarded as potent traditional Chinese medicines and fetch a high price on the black market.
The Chinese State Forestry Administration had issued a document allowing trade in legally obtained tiger and leopard skins in December 2007, but with such little fanfare that it barely rated a mention in the domestic media.
Almost every reference was subsequently erased from the Internet, apparently amid official concerns of damage to China's reputation before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The alarm was sounded yesterday by Traffic, which said the wording of the document was loose enough to allow its possible interpretation by the vast tiger farms in China as a go-ahead to make tiger bone wine.
Only about 30 to 40 tigers survive in the wild in China. But about 5,000 live in tiger farms, where they are bred at great speed.
Ostensibly the farms are tourist attractions but it is widely believed that their owners hope to use the animals to produce expensive tiger tonics. The income from visitors to the farms would be dwarfed by the profits from sales of tiger bone wine.
Indian conservationists believe that the rapid decline in tiger numbers in the country is a direct result of China's economic rise and the related increase in demand for traditional medicines.
The Indian tiger population stood at 1,411 in February last year, according to an official count, down from 3,642 in 2002 and an estimated 40,000 a century ago.
Ashok Kumar, of the Wildlife Trust of India, a conservation organisation, said that any relaxation of Chinese rules would have a catastrophic effect on the Indian tiger population. (ANI)