Conservation groups are renewing calls for China to maintain a 15-year moratorium on the trade in tiger parts with a poll showing 95 percent of Chinese support the ban.
The Save the Tiger Fund, which commissioned the poll, said 1,880 members of the public in seven major cities were asked about their use of tiger products, their preferences for products from wild tigers and China's 1993 tiger-trade ban.
The results showed almost 95 percent of respondents supported the ban. More than 77 percent of those felt the ban was important for China's image. Almost 95 percent said they would take action to save wild tigers, including abstaining from the use of tiger products.
"The results ... present the strikingly clear message that most Chinese people care so much about wild tigers that they are willing to change behaviors that threaten survival of tigers in the wild," said Judy Mills, of the fund.
The poll also showed almost 50 percent of people had consumed what they thought were tiger products. Among these consumers, almost 66 percent of medicine users preferred products from wild tigers and 74 percent of tonic users favored ingredients from wild over farmed tigers.
"The preference for products from wild tigers ... confirms our fears that lifting the ban will send the message to poachers that it's open season on tigers, which would be disastrous for wild tigers," said Grace Gabriel, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Gabriel admitted that more campaigns were needed to educate the public, but warned the situation would only get worse if the ban was lifted.
She said tigers were already being killed for the black market trade, referring to a Siberian tiger that was skinned and decapitated at a private zoo in Yichang, central China's Hubei Province, last month. Local police are investigating, but have published no findings.
The IFAW and other tiger protection groups are supporting a new website -- www.ilaohu.org -- that aims to influence government decisions on the ban. Ilaohu translates as "love tigers" and the website, operated by a Beijing design firm, presents itself as a "platform of communication for all tiger-loving people". It offers quizzes, picture downloads, and even anecdotes of Chinese pop singers calling themselves the "old tiger band".
The new international efforts came after several of horrific tiger deaths, resulting from under-funding of private parks. In November, a Siberian tiger in a northeast China zoo was killed and eaten by four underfed tigers. Seven tigers have died of starvation, illness and fight wounds at the Yichang park where the Siberian tiger was beheaded.
The shortage of funds has been held up as one of the main arguments for ending the ban by tiger farms and parks eager to ease their financial problems. China has about 5,000 captive-bred tigers, and 1,000 tigers are being bred each year.
Calls to the Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park, one of the parks spearheading calls to end the ban, went unanswered on Sunday.
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, starting a long-running debate between pro-traders and conservationists.
The pro-trade side insists that the parts of dead captive-bred tigers should be used, and promises stronger supervision to prevent poaching of wild tigers. The medicinal use and a belief in the success of reintroducing farmed tigers to the wild are their supporting arguments.
But conservationists argue the captive-breeding program can't succeed and want the government to halt the breeding of captive tigers and start phasing out the farms.
Sources with Chinese forestry ministry said in July last year that the government was still carrying out research and gathering the views of other countries, and the ban would not be lifted in the near future.
(Xinhua News Agency January 28, 2008)