In September, three wildlife traffickers were busted in Malaysia attempting to smuggle illegal tiger parts with the intention of selling them on the black market. Following a tip, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ (Perhilitan) Wildlife Crime Unit organized a raid that lead to the seizure of, “five [tiger] skins, 471 claws, 25 canines, 309 fragments of skin and 17 paws, all claimed by the syndicate to be tiger parts…Also found dozens of unidentified wildlife skin, 22 parts of various other animals as well as 120 and 242 bangles said to contain elephant hair.”
Thanks to the efforts of The Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ (Perhilitan) Wildlife Crime Unit, these traffickers were arrested and tens of thousands of dollars worth of illegal wildlife parts will never enter circulation. Sadly, millions of other animals will not face the same fate.
The illegal wildlife trade is a 10 billion dollar industry that is detrimental to millions of species of wild plants and animals all over the world. Many statistics argue the demand for wildlife parts is leading many animals to the brink of extinction, including the tiger.
The Demand for Tiger Parts
Tigers are tremendously valuable to traffickers, especially considering that there are as few as 3,000 remaining in the wild. The skin, bones, teeth and claws of tigers are considered sacred and commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Tiger bone is believed to treat arthritis and other ailments, but many compare the effects to that of taking a generic aspirin. Tiger bone is versatile and also commonly soaked in wine and considered a delicacy. Similarly, tiger skins and stuffed tigers are also considered status symbols and can each fetch upwards of $100,000. The claws, teeth and whiskers of the tiger are thought to provide protective powers that can be harnessed by those who purchase them.
Other tigers are captured from the wild (or bred in captivity) and sold for thousands of dollars to become exotic pets. According to Born Free, there are between 5,000-7,000 tigers currently being kept as pets in the U.S. Quite literally, there are more tigers in U.S. backyards than in their native habitat.
The demand for tiger parts is so high, in fact, that tiger farms have been created in countries where the breeding of tigers for commercial purposes remains legal. According to Save Tigers Now, “products from these tigers are winding up on the black market, driving demand for tiger products from both wild and farmed sources.”
Unfortunately in terms of the wildlife trade, tigers are worth more dead or held captive as pets than alive in the wild. So, how do we prevent it?
What is Driving the Wildlife Trade?
Given the dire circumstances that the animal victims of the wildlife trade are facing, it can be difficult to understand why this senseless killing continues. It’s important to keep in mind that while the poachers and traffickers who conduct these hunts are driven by the pursuit of profit, it is the consumer demand for wildlife parts that continues to drive the illicit trade. We are only beginning to see the far-reaching consequences of harvesting wild animals at such an unprecedented rate.
If nothing is done to end the poaching and sale of these animals, there is evidence to suggest tigers (among many other species) will be extinct from the wild within our lifetimes.
Apart from the organizations that rescue and rehabilitate animals found alive being smuggled, and those that work tirelessly to raise public awareness, the plight of so many species has given rise to a number of organizations implementing wildlife crime units similar to the very one that orchestrated the raid in Malaysia. These wildlife agencies have taken to training customs officials and law enforcement so they can identify wildlife products that may otherwise be overlooked.
Thankfully, there are a number of organizations working with countries to find effective solutions. We must continue to raise awareness and support these organizations that work tirelessly to protect the wild animals that are victims of the trade. In the meantime, there are a number of things YOU can do to ensure you aren’t participating in growing wildlife trade:
- Don’t purchase souvenirs (trinkets, jewelry, hair clips, sunglass frames), clothing or accessories (belts, wallets, handbags) that are made with animal parts. This includes ivory, teeth, feathers, shells, fur and beaks, just to name a few. When in doubt, don’t buy that item. You may not always get a honest answer from the vendor.
- Check the ingredients of alternative medicines. Many ingredients in TCM can include bear bile, pangolin scales, or bone and horn from a number of endangered animals including, but certainly not limited to: turtles, primates, tigers, and rhinos.
Lead image source: Alias 0591/Flickr