In view of the Tiger Summit starting soon in St Petersburg, I thought a few pointers for reporters wanting to write stories on tigers might help :)
Okay, number 1. White tigers are not a subspecies of tiger. They are a genetic mutant that is thrown up in all subspecies from time-to-time. Siberian- or Amur- tigers, are not in fact, naturally white. They’re just a bit bigger than other subpecies.
Number 2, tigers aren’t being poached for their aphrodisiac properties. Traditional Chinese medicine is not a synonym for wacky impotence cures. Tigers are poached for many reasons. The skins are widely traded throughout Asia. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, tiger bone is used as an ingredient for pharmaceuticals used to treat bone diseases. Other countries in Asia, like Vietnam, attribute medicinal qualities to tiger parts.
Number 3, India isn’t losing their tigers to TCM markets in China. Every analysis done of the tiger parts seized by smugglers out of India, are almost completely dominated by tiger skins. Bengali tigers out of India are supplying black markets in the skin trade. Interception data from China shows that most bones come from the Indo-Chinese subspecies. So they’re coming out of countries like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Number 4, consumption of tiger parts is not wide-spread. There are maybe 300 tigers a year than are poached in Asia. There are a lot of people who live in Asia. 300 tigers doesn’t go very far.
Number 5, education campaigns sound very grand, but let’s be honest. We don’t have a message for consumers in China. They’re buying tiger parts at great cost (a complete tiger is about $US50,000), at some risk (20 years in a Chinese prison up to the death penalty) and they certainly know that tigers are endangered. Nobody really has any idea what education message is going to work on this core.
Number 6, there is no proven preference for wild tiger parts by Chinese consumers. First up, we’re getting leakage out of zoos and captive-facilities in China (and elsewhere)- and by leakage we mean that tigers are being either stolen or sold illegally. People’s actions speak louder than words. The second is, nobody is actually surveying black-market customers. We’re only doing market surveys of people in general. We’re not surveying black-market customers because, nobody can actually find any. At the moment, the attested preference for wild tiger parts is akin to me having a preference for a Mercedes-S series car over a Toyota Lexus. But I’m not in the market for either. So my preferences don’t really count.
Number 7, Every international meeting promises great things for tigers. Nonetheless, the history of tiger conservation is littered with projects that have failed to achieve their outcomes. That’s why we don’t have many left. Please retain some objectivity and skepticism. Ask some hard questions.