The global tiger trade has drastically reduced the world’s tiger population through illegal hunting, trading and selling. Global laws are in place in the United States to protect most tigers from being sold on the open market, but there are loopholes in these laws.
In 1998, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) amended an existing law, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, that protects several animal species to exclude “generic” tigers, or tigers crossed between more than one subspecies of tiger. These tigers are scientifically referred to as Panthera tigris and are not members of the Bengal, Indochinese, Siberian, or Sumatran tiger families. This amendment created a loophole, through which breeders are legally allowed to breed, exploit, sell and trade generic tigers. This law, however, still prohibits all tigers from being collected or kept domestically as pets.
The FWS said that their reasoning for this amendment came out of a desire to preserve the Endangered Species Act’s purpose of protecting wild species in their natural habitat. They also stated that “Populations of species in captivity are, in large degree, removed from their natural ecosystems and have a role in survival of the species only to the extent that they maintain genetic integrity and offer the potential of restocking natural ecosystems where the species has become depleted or no longer occurs.” The amendment provides conditional permission to tiger dealers who export, import, sell or transport non-native endangered or threatened live tigers bred in captivity in the United States.
All tigers are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as well as by the US Endangered Species Act. An estimated ninety percent of these big cats’ natural habitat, which stretches across the whole of Asia, has been reduced to a range that spans from India to Vietnam and parts of Indonesia and China. Between 3,500 and 5,000 wild tigers are left in their native ecosystems, an overall population decline of 95 percent since 1900. This decrease is attributed to hunting and habitat destruction.
Some say that tiger farms, which breed tigers, are a viable alternative to selling wild tigers because their population can be controlled and grow, and because farmed tigers can be reintroduced into the wild. However, conservation groups largely oppose tiger farming because this practice does not guarantee that wild tigers will be safe from hunters. Farmed tigers are likely unsuitable for introduction into the wild, as these tigers are often bred for quantity and not for quality, meaning that they can have health problems or genetic deficiencies that would decrease their chance of surviving in the wild.
Tiger farms, which are opposed and banned by international tiger conservation groups, exist – mostly in Asia – to raise more than 5,000 tigers in captivity for commercial trade. Despite a 1993 Chinese ban on tiger trading, these tiger farms breed their tigers with the hope that the Chinese government will reverse the ban and allow the sale of these animals. Despite this Chinese ban and a global ban on the trade of tiger products – such as bones and meat – set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the exchange of these products still occurs. Tiger products, including pills and medicinal products made from tiger bones, were popular in traditional Chinese medicine for their ability to cure illnesses and for their aphrodisiacal qualities, but many modern Chinese doctors prefer alternatives to tiger medicine.
To expand global protections to include all tigers, contact the FWS and express your support for tiger conservation by visiting Big Cat Rescue or ForceChange. ForceChange has a petition to sign, while Big Cat Rescue offers a pre-drafted open letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service explaining the reasons for closing the generic tiger loophole. Big Cat Rescue also provides an address and website for the FWS. The deadline to send this letter is September 21, 2011.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/digitalart/1906662004/