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Prime Minister Directs Action Against Tiger Traders

7 October 2005

Wildlife conservationists welcomed news that the Indian government is to take new action to fight tiger poaching and the smuggling of skins. The massive illegal trade in skins used across the Tibetan plateau poses a direct threat to India’s remaining wild tigers.

In a late evening press release on 6 October 2005, the Government of India stated that the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, had “directed action to check the trade of Wildlife articles like tiger and leopard skins along the northern border”.

As part of these directions, the proposal for the National Wildlife Crime Bureau will be placed before the Cabinet by the third week of October. Additionally, the three paramilitary forces entrusted with border security  the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the Border Security Force (BSF)  along with Customs officers stationed on the Indo-China and Indo-Nepal borders, will be trained to detect cross border smuggling of wildlife articles.

Dr. Singh has also directed that the issue be taken up with the authorities in China and Nepal through diplomatic channels. The Minister of State for Environment will personally ask Chinese authorities to take urgent action during his upcoming visit to China.

The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), welcomed the Prime Minister’s response following their release of shocking footage and photos from China illustrating the staggering scale of the market for tiger, leopard and otter skins illegally sourced from India. Investigators from WPSI in Delhi and EIA in London travelled extensively throughout the Tibetan plateau in August 2005 and documented the open display and sale of hundreds of skins in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Sichuan and Gansu Province. Traders categorically stated that the tiger skins were from India.

The findings illustrate an absence of effective enforcement, regional cooperation and a lack of consumer awareness. In the midst of this, the Chinese government is reportedly considering re-opening domestic trade in tiger bone, which would be disastrous for wild tigers.

Belinda Wright, WPSI’s Executive Director said: “We are delighted the Prime Minister is taking a lead role on the international stage and look forward to seeing effective enforcement cooperation between India, Nepal and China to stop trade. It’s critical however that India reminds China how a revived trade in tiger bone would spell doom for our tigers.”

While the directions from the Prime Minister are commendable, it is essential that domestic enforcement is also improved, with emergency action on the ground to protect tigers. Organised criminal networks run the tiger skin and bone trade and India needs to use professional crime fighters to stop them.

Debbie Banks, EIA Senior Campaigner, stated: “We know India is on the verge of setting up a multi-agency wildlife crime bureau to target the big time traders and dealers. It is vital that police, customs and intelligence agencies play a lead role in directing enforcement operations. In China we need to see a massive awareness drive among consumers and targeted enforcement against smugglers and dealers”.

The Indian tiger is running out of time. India and China will need to take strong and sustained action against poachers, traders and consumers if they are to keep wild tigers alive in India.





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