As the Year of the Tiger approaches, conservationists are using the occasion to highlight increasing concerns of China's dwindling tiger population, issuing calls to protect tigers in the wild and ramping up efforts to save the endangered species.
A series of public service announcements (PSA) were unveiled Friday, with action star Jackie Chan lending his name to WildAid's "When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too" campaign for a second time.
"As this majestic creature becomes threatened with extinction, we must stand side by side to protect them and say no to the tiger trade," Chan said at the PSA launch and press briefing in Beijing.
"Consuming tigers' skins as a symbol of luxury and their bones for traditional medicine and health tonics are traditions for Chinese and still exist," explained Fan Zhiyong, Species Program Director at WWF Beijing, speaking at the briefing.
"There are about 20 Siberian Tigers in the border area of Heilongjiang Province and Russia, 8-12 Bengal Tigers in southeastern Tibet and 11-16 Indochinese Tigers in southwest China," explained Su Ming from China's State Forestry Administration (SFA), adding that only 48 reliable clues have been found for the whereabouts of the rare South China Tiger.
The SFA issued a directive last month to boost the protection of wild tigers through natural habitat management, stronger law enforcement against illegal trade in tiger parts and products, stricter regulation of captive breeding regulations and raising public awareness to reduce the demand for tiger products.
The directive specifically called for local forestry bureaus in China to collaborate with law enforcement agencies to increase monitoring and undertake enforcement measures against illegal trade.
Despite a complete trade ban for tiger products issued by the Chinese government in 1993, a 2007 report by the world's largest wildlife trade-monitoring network, TRAFFIC, found that demand for tiger parts, such as tiger bone for tonics and tiger skins for clothing and display, still exists.
"The demand for tiger products drives people to kill the tiger if they know they can get a lot of money only with the cost of bullet, while farming a tiger costs thousands," WildAid President Steve Trent said at the briefing.
"By simply not consuming their parts and products and making our support for wildlife and the natural world known, we can directly influence the unsustainable trade in these animals that is reducing their numbers so rapidly. These individual actions are critically important and we each have a role and responsibility to act now, before it is too late," he added.
"Double or nothing, we hope this year is not the last Year of the Tiger that will see actual tigers surviving in the wild," Fan said.
Efforts to protect the tiger in China have been stepped up considerably in the past 10 years. WWF and the Chinese government have built five Siberian Tiger conservation areas totaling 1,200 square kilometers. According to the SFA, a total of 17 tiger conservation areas and 74 conservation management offices are in operation and 6,000 tigers are living in captivity.
In terms of international efforts, the Kathmandu Global Tiger Workshop was held October 27-30 and the First Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation from January 27-30. Bringing together ministers from 13 countries, the conference was one event in a continuum of efforts planned for 2010 that will culminate with the Heads of Government Tiger Summit in Russia in September.
The workshop and conference examined protection of wild tigers and their breeding areas, creating buffer zones and conservation corridors and stopping infrastructure projects in critical tiger habitats. They also looked at ways of empowering local communities in and around tiger habitats with sustainable economic incentives and appropriate technologies to minimize human-tiger conflicts.
"Today fewer than 4,000 tigers [worldwide] survive in increasingly isolated and fragmented wild populations, down from over 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century," Trent from WildAid said.
Figures from the WWF put the world's dwindling tiger numbers at only 3,200.
Jackie's current PSA for WildAid:
And one from 2007: