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Tibetans no longer wearing the skins of dead tigers

6 Sept.2007 

Investigation at this summer's Litang Horse Festival shows Tibetans are responding to calls to preserve endangered species - but the tiger remains threatened elsewhere.

London - 5th September 2007: The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has found a sharp decline in the use of tiger and leopard skins in the Tibetan region, formerly an important market for illegally poached skins.

The change was observed on a recent visit by EIA to the Litang Tibetan horse festival in the Chinese province of Sichuan. In stark contrast to previous visits by EIA and the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) in 2005 and 2006, not a single person at the festival was seen wearing the skins of endangered species. The comparison with 2005 is particularly striking, when hundreds of performers and officials in Litang were documented wearing costumes decorated with the skins of tiger, leopard and otter.

Currently all cross-border trade in tiger and leopard skins is banned under the inter-governmental Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), while domestic trade is illegal under Chinese law.

Indications that the market for skins in Litang has dried-up were supported by EIA and WPSI findings elsewhere. Early in 2007, a trip to Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), uncovered a similar decline in the number of tiger and leopard skins for sale.

The dramatic fall in the use of skins in the Tibetan region represents a major localized success story, and comes after two years of intense public awareness campaigns in the region, involving local activists and international organizations. It also serves as an important indication of what could be achieved in other areas, given the right combination of local and international action.

Debbie Banks, Head of EIA’s Tiger Campaign, said “Targeted awareness campaigns really do appear to have changed attitudes, but investigations show it is essential that these are backed-up by intelligence-led enforcement to stop the skin traders and criminal gangs. Otherwise they will switch to more diffuse markets in other places, such as home decor and trophy skins.”

Although the drop in demand is good news for Asia’s big cats, the illegal trade in their skins and body parts continues to thrive elsewhere. Markets in China’s Gansu and QinghaiProvince are still driving the poaching which threatens the existence of the world’s remaining wild populations. Indeed, recent reports suggest that the number of tigers continues to fall, with only around 3000 left in the wild, of which around half are in India. Poaching pressures remain intense and increased efforts to tackle the criminal gangs who run the tiger trade will be needed to ensure the future of the remaining populations.

Belinda Wright, Executive Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India welcomed the news. “This shows that where there’s a will there’s a way. Now we need to see the same level of commitment and investment from governments in the region to break the criminal networks that control the trade.”

An EIA briefing, Use and Availability of Asian Big cat Skins at the Litang Horse Festival, Sichuan, August 2007, can be downloaded from the EIA web site ( 

Full address for download:

For further information please contact:

Debbie Banks, Senior Tiger Campaigner, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), UK
+44 (0) 20 7354 7973 (office) or +44 (0) 7773 428360 (mobile)

Belinda Wright, Executive Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), New Delhi
+91 11 5163 5920 (office) or +91 11 5163 5924 (fax)

Mike Durham, Press Officer, EIA UK
+44 (0) 20 7354 7985 (office) or +44 (0) 7882 756187 (mobile)

For footage and still pictures please contact:

Ingvild Holm, Visual Resource Coordinator, EIA UK
+44 (0) 20 7354 7968 (office) or +44 (0) 7984681223 (mobile)




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