|Last month, London environmental agency found shop after shop in Lhasa with stocks
By JAY MAZOOMDAAR
Tiger skins make it to the roof of the world Despite the red alert sounded by the Ministry of Environment and Forests across the country, the trade in tiger and other big cat skins from India is flourishing alarmingly in Tibet and adjoining areas of China. With increased supplies of tiger, leopard and otter skins, many new shops have sprung up in what is arguably the world’s single largest wildlife blackmarket.
These are some of the startling findings of an ongoing survey conducted by the London-based Environmental Investigative Agency (EIA) with the help of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).
The survey report will be released later this month but sources confirmed that the situation has only worsened since October 2003 when China’s Anti-Smuggling Bureau intercepted a truck in their ‘‘Tibetan Autonomous Region’’ that was carrying a consignment of 31 tiger, 581 leopard and 778 otter skins from India.
‘‘This has been an extensive survey and we also covered new areas. We will start analysing our data before we finalise the report,’’ EIA’s senior campaigner Debbie Banks told The Indian Express.
Conducted last month, the key findings of the recent survey are:
- Both the open sale and use of fresh tiger, leopard and otter skins is even more widespread than last year.
- All dealers the team talked to said the skins had come from India.
- In Lhasa, many new shops were openly selling tiger and leopard skin chubas — a traditional Tibetan outfit. At one shop, the team found three fresh tiger skins — priced up to Rs 5.4 lakh each — and seven fresh leopard skins for sale. All these skins were said to have been smuggled from India.
- Most Tibetans wearing chubas claimed they had purchased the outfits during the past two seasons.
- Only 10 shops in the main Barkhor circuit stocked 24 tiger skin chubas. Another 20 stocked 54 leopard skin chubas. There are a total of 46 shops in the market.
- A large number of leopard and snow leopard skins were also found on the streets of Linxia.
- The over-all situation is much worse than what was found during the EIA survey last year.
‘‘The survey confirms without doubt that there is large-scale poaching of tigers and leopards in India whose skins are smuggled to Tibet,’’ said WPSI’s Belinda Wrights, also a member of Rajasthan’s State Empowered Committee (SEC) on Forest and Wildlife Management.
Wrights has pointed out some of the preliminary findings in the panel’s report that was presented to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje this evening in Jaipur. Among other recommendations, the SEC report has emphasized the need to curb cross-border smuggling in wildlife objects.
‘‘We were told that the Tibetan chuba is exempted from the law even if it is adorned with an entire tiger skin. In Linxia, traders claimed that in the Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu Province, there is a special policy that allows them to openly sell skins,’’ wrote WPSI’s Wrights in the SEC report.
The information gathered by the EIA/WPSI team has been passed on to the Chinese authorities. A delegation from India — a MOEF and a CBI official — was in China a couple of weeks back to attend a CITES meet. They were also briefed about the findings at an EIA presentation.