10 March 2013

Captive Breeding of tiger

Tiger is endangered – no commercial trade allowed

As I previously explained in one of my posts, all tiger species are included in Appendix I of the CITES Convention. This means that the species is threatened with extinction.

Article I of CITES stipulates that trade of specimens of these species must only be authorized in exceptional circumstances. In particular, the commercial international trade in Asian big cat species and their parts and derivatives has been prohibited by the Convention since 1975 (with the exception of the Asiatic lion and the Amur tiger Panthera tigris altaica, which were included in 1977 and 1987, respectively).

The system

However, Article VII of the CITES Convention states that those specimens of an animal species included in Appendix I (the tiger amongst them) that are bred in captivity for commercial purposes shall be deemed to be species included in Appendix II. Now, Appendix II species, as opposed to Appendix I, includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, and therefore trade is allowed as long as the right permits are produced.

Captive breeding of tigers is not a new problem. Already in 2007, when the signatory parties of CITES met in their biannual meeting (CoP 14.69), they decided that Parties with intensive operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale shall implement measures to restrict the captive population to a level supportive only to conserving wild tigers; tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.

Parties to CITES have been requested (Notification to the Parties No. 2012/054 of 3 September 2012) to provide information on the status of implementation of this decision. Only Thailand, China and India had responded on time for CoP 15.

The problem

Tiger farms appear to exist in China, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam (Nowell and Xu,2007; ENV, 2010).  According to the Chinese data, there are over 5000 tigers in captivity. Captive bred is done for the purpose of reintroduction, genetic conservation, public education, exhibition, and performance.

Trade in captive-bred tiger skin is legal according to Chinese legislation as long as they are registered. On the contrary, tiger bone is banned from trading with medicinal purposes since 1993.

Captive breeding being legal brings to my mind the following questions: who controls that the animals are bred for the above purposes? Who decides the number of bred animals? Is there a limit? Who controls that animals are not just simply killed to sell their parts? How do authorities differentiate, if it is possible, between a dead wild tiger and a dead captive-bred tiger? What happens with the animal parts once the tiger is dead? How are these authorities complying with the 2007 Decision?

China argues in its report and I quote that “it has labeled most of the captive bred tigers with microchips and established a database for those labeled individuals, which enable the captive tigers to be fully monitored by the forestry authority and prevent the captive bred tiger parts from entering the illegal trade from or through such facilities.”

In order to supervise the dead body of captive bred tigers, a practice seems to have been put in place to dismember the frozen carcass in standardized methods, seal the tiger bones, label the tiger skins and destroy other tiger parts.

Thailand seems to use the same approach as well as individual stripe-marking as a tool for enforcement activities.

The EIA has reported several times on the way tiger captive breeding is conceived and implemented in several countries, notably China. There is a concern that captive bred tigers are entering illegal trade (Plowden and Bowles, 1997; Bulte and Damania, 2005; Williamson and Henry, 2008; Nowell and Xu (2008); Irvine, 2010) given the impossibility of differentiating between a captive bred/wildlife tiger once they are dead.

TRAFFIC has also raised concerns in its recently updated report Reduced to skin and bones revisited.

From a legal point of view, it is difficult to assess only with this information how it works in practice. Nothing seems to prevent the deliberate killing of the animal, which means that captive breeding may well be used to turn legal what from the outset is considered as illegal. Neither of the reports provided to CITES go into the details of captive breeding, which I believe should be read by the international community as a worrying sign. If someone can provide me with a translation of the legislations in place, I could make a legal analysis. Needless to say, I am always happy to receive information on this subject that I have not come across yet, and which could improve this first attempt to understand the problem.

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