A tiger pelt can sell for $10,000 in China while the animal’s bones can fetch $1,000 per 100g in Vietnam.
A few days ago a wild Bengal tiger was found dead in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans in India. The striped predator had a wire strapped around its midriff, indicating it had fallen victim to a poacher’s snare.
Round about the same time a Vietnamese man was arrested by border guards while trying to smuggle a tiger’s pelt and bones into China from Vietnam’s northern province of Quang Ninh.
The two incidents happened thousands of kilometers apart and might seem to have nothing in common. Yet they point to the same fact: wild tigers continue to face existential threats throughout their ranges in Asia.
The continent’s last beleaguered 4,000 or so tigers are at constant risk of being poached in addition to being at risk from habitat loss. The two main drivers of the illicit trade in tiger parts are China and Vietnam, where the animals’ parts used as decorative items and ingredients in traditional medicine. A tiger pelt can sell for as much as $10,000 in China while the animal’s bones can fetch $1,000 per 100g in Vietnam.
As far as poachers and their customers are concerned, no part of a tiger is without its value on the black market. Even the animal’s whiskers are sold and bought. Its bones are especially highly prized as ingredients for an elixir known as “tiger bone wine,” which entails boiling down the bones and mixing them with rice wine. The concoction is believed by people in Vietnam, China and elsewhere in the region to have medicinal properties, although it does not.
Once both China and Vietnam were home to numerous while tigers. Today the South China tiger is considered to be extinct by experts as it has not been seen in the wild for over 25 years. Not have Indochinese tigers fared better in Vietnam, where they were last seen in the wild in 1997, indicating that the striped predators are no more in the wild in the country.
Meanwhile, tigers are also on their last legs in neighboring countries. They are probably extinct in Cambodia and while they are doing relatively well in Thailand and Myanmar, they are down to a few hundred individuals. In Nepal and India, the local tiger populations remain relatively robust, but a high death toll in India has been claiming numerous victims among the country’s Bengal tigers in recent years.
India’s tigers are losing out to habitat loss and an absence of suitable prey animals. Poaching too may take its toll, albeit it isn’t easy to determine to what extent it does. “Tiger poaching is virtually an invisible kind of crime,” explains Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, a prominent local conservationist. “Rhino poachers take the animal’s horns and leave behind the carcass. But since tiger poachers make off with the entire animal, they do not leave behind any trace.”