Tiger Range Countries meet in Delhi, India next week to evaluate progress of the Global Tiger Recovery Programme (GTRP) in what will be a true test of their national commitment to end the tiger trade.
The GTRP was signed into existence in November 2010 in St Petersburg, Russia, with the common objective of doubling the world's wild tiger population by 2022.
The agenda for the Delhi meeting, from May 15-17, includes issues which to date have received too little attention in this forum - demand reduction and effective enforcement.
With final preparations for the meeting underway, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) today warned that concrete action is needed to shut down tiger breeding operations and destroy their stockpiles of tiger skins and bones if the GTRP is to retain serious credibility.
EIA lead campaigner Debbie Banks said: "Successful demand reduction will be dependent on the closure of operations that breed tigers for trade in their parts and derivatives, and those that provide the living specimens to stock such operations."
Operations in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam have been implicated in the illegal international trade; in China, breeders are allowed to sell farmed tiger skins on the domestic market.
"This trade simply serves to perpetuate demand, undermining enforcement efforts and sending mixed messages to consumers," added Banks.
Tiger farming was hotly debated in 2007 at the 14th Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), where the majority of Parties voted against domestic and international trade in parts of farmed tigers and called for a phasing out of such operations.
No country has yet reported on what action is being taken to fulfil the CITES decision.
While there have been recent high profile seizures and arrests in Thailand, and Vietnam has prosecuted at least one tiger farm owner, there is no report of action against tiger farmers in Laos; China stated in March 2011 that it had inspected tiger breeding operations, but it has not shared information on any convictions of those found selling tiger bone and products.
China also allows tiger breeding operations to maintain freezers full of tiger carcasses, instead of destroying them as urged by CITES. While tiger bone trade is currently prohibited, China has a scheme for registering, labelling and selling the skins but refuses to disclose how many skins have entered the scheme.
"How can these stockpiles possibly be justified?" asked Banks. "Maintaining stockpiles serves no conservation purpose; it only creates confusion and speculates that one day these parts may be traded for profit. That runs completely counter to a commitment to end tiger trade and totally undermines efforts at demand reduction.
"For the credibility of the GTRP, we need to see unequivocal and emphatic action to shut down all commercial tiger breeding operations and to transparently destroy the stockpiles." nepalnews.com