The potential market for tiger products in China is enormous, but a vast majority of the Chinese public would rather have wild tigers than tiger-bone wine, according to new research published in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE.
The researchers examined data collected from a representative sample of Chinese living in seven major cities in China. The results show that while the Chinese public overwhelmingly supports that country's ban on selling tiger products, 43% of respondents admit consuming products they believed to contain tiger parts. Within this user group, 71% said they preferred products made from wild tigers to those from farmed tigers.
The authors say this confirms fears by scientists and conservationists that wild tigers would be wiped out if China reopens tiger trade as investors in tiger farming are advocating.
"We finally have data that show if China reopens tiger trade, all bets are off for the survival of wild tigers," said Judy Mills, Director of the Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking. "The remaining 4,000 tigers left in the wild would not stand a chance if demand were reignited among China's 1.3 billion consumers."
China banned domestic trade in medicines and health tonics made from tiger bones in 1993. Conservationists believe this ban has taken enormous pressure off wild tiger populations. Traditional Chinese medicine specialists now largely embrace effective, sustainable alternatives and have joined the fight to stop all trade in tiger products for the sake of wild tigers and the reputation of China's traditional medicine system.
The good news in the research published today, the authors say, is that 88% of respondents are aware that buying tiger products is illegal, and 93% agreed that China's ban was necessary to ensure a future for wild tigers.
The authors recommend that Chinese authorities maintain the tiger trade ban and step up law enforcement and public education to eliminate tiger trade from any source.
Citation: Gratwicke B, Mills J, Dutton A, Gabriel G, Long B, et al. (2008) Attitudes Toward Consumption and Conservation of Tigers in China. PLoS ONE 3(7): e2544. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002544
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