With many conservationists up in arms about China's desire to resume trade in tiger bones, a Chinese Forestry official has stated that not using tiger parts is a huge waste, and Western experts who insist on a ban fail to understand traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese culture.
Wang Wei, deputy director of the Department of Wildlife Conservation under the State Forestry Administration (SFA), reiterated his opposition to the ban on trade in tiger parts at the International Workshop on Strategy for Tiger Conservation held Saturday in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. The workshop was organized by the SFA and attended by some 80 experts from China and abroad.
China joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1981, and imposed a ban on the harvesting of tiger bones in 1993. Later, tiger bones were deleted from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) dictionaries.
"Tiger bone was taken out of the dictionaries but that doesn't mean we think they have no medicinal value. Tiger bones have been a key item in Chinese traditional medicine for several thousand years, and not using them is a huge waste," Wang said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
TCM regards the tiger as an exceptional medical resource -- tiger urine is used to treat eye infections, for example, and tiger bones to treat rheumatism.
"All animals die, and there should be no problem using the bones of captive-bred tigers that died from natural causes," he said.
There are now 5,000 captive-bred tigers in China, and 1,000 tigers are being bred on a yearly basis. Many experts say that the tiger breeding technology has matured in China, and it's time to rethink reintroducing and using the bones of the captive-tigers."
Their argument was backed by some TCM experts. Cao Ziqing, a researcher from the Beijing Chaoyangmen Hospital, said "human organs are being transplanted, so why can't dead captive-bred tigers be used as medicine? This (ban on the use of tiger bone) shows a lack of respect for human health and human lives."
The Chinese government has been bombarded with calls from within China to remove the ban on tiger parts, but there is a lot of pressure from international groups to keep the ban in place.
Wang told Xinhua that "we are very prudent and cautious, and we will not make hasty decisions. We are still carrying out research and soliciting the views of other countries, and the ban will not be lifted in the near future."
The push for lifting the ban has met with bitter opposition from groups that insist legalizing trade in tiger bone for medicinal purposes would stimulate demand for tiger products and increase illegal poaching of wild tigers.
Urs Breitenmoser, Co-chair of the IUCN/SSC (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources/Species Survival Commission) Cat Specialist Group, said "We are all in the same boat. No country, including China, can make decisions affecting the existence of a species and take risks on behalf of humanity."
"What is important right now is to maintain the ban, bring people together and work out a solution. China cannot simply go its own way regardless of others," he said.
But other experts see things differently. "Trade is a factor affecting wild tigers but it is not the only issue," said Eugene Lapointe, President of the IWMC (International Wildlife Management Consortium) World Conservation Trust.
"China can work out the best time to lift the ban. The trade ban is not the be-all and end-all, what is essential is to protect the natural habitat of wild tigers," he said.
Dr. V. Santhakumr, associate professor of the Center for Development Studies in India, said China should carefully open the market and tiger bone medicine should only be sold in authorized institutions.
While the experts argue about the best way to protect the endangered carnivore, Chinese tiger farm owners facing a financial crisis can't wait to see the ban lifted.
Wang Ligang, general manager of the Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park, said Chinese law and the CITES did not forbid the park from disposing of dead tigers.
"From our perspective, if the ban really does protect wild tigers globally, then our losses are a big contribution to international wild tiger protection and we should be compensated by the international community," he said.
"We have been very successful in breeding the tigers, but this ill thought-out ban is extremely costly for us," Wang said.
Some international groups have suggested the government halt the breeding of captive tigers and start phasing out the farms. They insist captive-bred tigers have never been successfully released into the wild due to gene inefficiencies.
"The parks were set up according to Chinese law," said Wang Wei, citing the Law on the Protection of Wildlife.
"With strict controls and management of the processing of bones, and tougher law enforcement, the ban can be removed and it will not affect the wild tiger population," he added.
(Xinhua News Agency July 9, 2007)