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   Prashanto Banerji - Features Editor - The Sunday Indian
Prashanto Banerji
Features Editor - The Sunday Indian
[22 April 2007]


Apparently, Chinese libido, or rather the lack of it, threatens to kill off the tiger. Condom giant Durex, in one of their surveys noted that China is one of the least sexually active nations in the world. Consequentially, the rising demand for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments like tiger penis soup (claimed to be an aphrodisiac) is pushing tiger farm owners (who rear captive bred tigers) to urge the Chinese government (which had banned the trade in tiger parts) to reopen its domestic market. But that’s less than half the story. Tiger parts, from bone to bile, are coveted by a persistent number of TCM faithfuls, to treat everything from rheumatism to pimples, as well as the odd case of bedroom blues. To compound the problem, in Tibet, the nouveau riche amongst the traditionally frugal and non-violent Buddhists, have taken to wearing tiger skins and trimmings in an uncharacteristically ostentatious bid to flaunt new found wealth. But when Dalai Lama asked his fellow Tibetans to give them up, skins worth millions of dollars were discarded and burnt by the Tibetans. Recently, however, I happened to bump into an old friend, a conservationist who has risked her life on umpteen occasions for the sake of India’s wildlife, who told me that many Tibetans were being forced to wear tiger skins, even on television, by local Chinese authorities, in order to tarnish Tibet’s reputation as a land of courage and Buddhist pacifism. And now, one hears that the Chinese government is considering legalising the trade in tiger parts, because tiger breeders are insisting that not only is there a high economic cost being borne by them because of the ban, but due to existing stockpiles, easing it would also ease the pressure on wild tigers.

The idea of course, is preposterous and even the rascals who came up with it know that. The cost of a captive bred tiger’s parts would be prohibitive compared to a tiger poached in the wild and since the poached parts are indistinguishable to the naked eye from those from a captive bred one, all this will serve to do is open up the market for illegally procured bones from all over the world, including India, which has seen it’s tiger population drop to just about a 1,000 odd from a relatively stable 4,000 within a short span of three years. I mean, how ridiculously stupid does one have to be to understand that in a world where lions are killed (case in point – Gir) in an attempt to sell off their parts as tiger parts, legalising the trade in tiger parts would only serve to wipe out tiger populations in the wild. And that is precisely the motive behind the feigned naiveté of these breeders, for when tiger populations are extinct in the wild (and at this rate it wouldn’t take long to decimate the remaining 3000 odd tigers that remain in the wilds of Asia), these handful of breeders would have monopolised this increasingly lucrative trade. While the Manmohan Singh government’s toothless initiatives remain distressingly ineffective, if one needs further vindication of the illogic that must have inspired this proposal, take a look at what the skewed ban on elephant ivory (it can be bought on ebay but can’t be im/exported!!) has done to elephant populations in Asia and Africa. The inability to easily distinguish between old, new, Asian and African ivory has led to high incidences of poaching in countries like India and Kenya where it is illegal to hunt elephants.

That’s not the end of the big cat’s worries. On a recent trip to Ranthambore, over a cup of tea with a local tracker, I discovered that animals like Sambar and wild boar, the mainstay of a tiger’s diet, were regularly hunted by local tribals and as Ullas Karanth, a noted tiger biologist once wrote, “for every 50 deer hunted in a year, there is… one less tiger on this earth”. With a depleting prey base, fragmented habitat, greedy tiger ranchers, some not so virile Chinese and a very sterile local government, the fate of the tiger in India seems doomed. In most of India’s national parks, the rangers are too old and too poorly equipped to put up a fight. But as the examples of committed and relatively better equipped forest guards in Kaziranga and Siberia prove, it is possible to protect valuable species like the rhino and the tiger with just a little more ammunition and some more gumption, until local support is enlisted by involving them in the conservation process. The tigers of India owe a lot to conservationists in China who lobbied for the tiger and undoubtedly, the Chinese ban on tiger products provided at least a toe hold to the beleaguered big cat. It is now upto these conservationists to keep up the good work even as a Chinese delegation prepares its case for reopening trade at a wildlife convention in Kathmandu on the 16th of April. So, come on China, tigers, conservationists and eco-tourism economies across the world need you to stay strong and support the global conservation movement. As for Durex, in the very same survey, they found Chinese women to be the most attractive in the world, and if that doesn’t perk things up enough, I recommend some old fashioned Taoist qigong. It’s sure to cure one’s woes – from rheumatism to pimples, and yes, even the odd case of bedroom blues.

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