The global market for tigers is a lucrative one, so it’s no surprise that illegal trading and poaching are flourishing in this niche. This is not just an ethical issue, but also an environmental one as tigers are now at the brink of extinction. It’s not just that their natural habitats are being destroyed by urbanization and fire, but also that these magnificent creatures are being actively hunted for almost every part of their body.
According to research by National Geographic, the illegal tiger trade means that these creatures are like ‘walking gold’. The demand for their skins, teeth, and other body parts are in huge demand and go for a staggering price on the black market.
The Precious Parts of a Tiger
Most people would think that tigers are hunted and slaughtered mostly for their beautiful pelts. Indeed, the gold and black stripes of the tiger’s fur make it a lovely addition to any home. The skins are sold for making rugs (sometimes with the head stuffed and intact), coats, wall hangings, and several other items.
However, the bones of these poached tigers are quite precious as well. Most of these are smuggled to China for various medicinal uses. The most common of these is tiger bone wine, which is quite pricey but considered to be a traditional form of Chinese medicine. It’s believed to be a tonic that could give the user the strength of the tiger.
China is also a major hub when it comes to using the tiger skins. Many of these pelts end up being part of luxury home decor items.
How The Poaching Happens
We may have a vision of a poacher as being a person with a gun. For tigers, at least, that’s not true. A bullet hole would ruin the tiger’s skin and greatly diminish its value. Neither do the organized poaching groups use fancy weapons to do the deed. A jaw trap is utilized sometimes, but this has to be a heavy-duty, sturdy version.
In India, where illegal killing and smuggling of tigers is a major issue, the tiger traps are individually forged by blacksmiths in different areas. Experts can even tell where a certain trap was made by its design.
One jaw trap can be used several times, taking down many tigers in its lifetime.
Poachers make sure to know about the distribution of tigers as well as their behavior. Some might target the tigers on the fringes of forests or the edges of certain reserves. They usually target adult tigers, especially males. This is logical, as an adult male tiger would usually have the largest body and hence the largest pelt. The larger the skin, the more the poachers get for it.
There may also be some areas where the enforcement of anti-poaching laws is weaker than others. They could pay off locals to gather information about the whereabouts of tigers as well as updates on the movements of anti-poaching patrols.
The People behind the Poaching
It’s worth nothing here that organized gangs and even whole families are usually the people behind poaching. The locals of the areas where tigers are poached aren’t directly involved, though they might betray the animals for a bit of money. Of course, there are also the locals who sell the bones and skin of poached tigers, managing to make a tidy sum for themselves on the side.
In fact, the organized gangs are running the wildlife trade on behalf of several sophisticated crime syndicates. The issue is at an international level; with these groups also gaining massive profits from poaching rhinos, elephants, and other animals. Since the business is worth at least nineteen billion dollars per year, the effort of poachers and their backers aren’t going to end anytime soon.
The Problems With Fighting Wildlife Crime
There are several issues that have led to the flourishing of this wildlife trade. Despite the attempts of many concerned authorities, the punishments for poachers are still light. In a country like India, where many of the world’s tigers reside, the judicial system already has a lot of crime to deal with. As a result, wildlife crime isn’t exactly the highest priority.
The Efforts of WPSI
There are certain tips that might help anti-poaching efforts, and some of them pay off. One example is that of the tigress Sita, who was on the cover of a National Geographic issue in 1997. The tigress mysteriously vanished in the spring of the following year. Eventually, a group of four men were arrested for possessing her skin and bones; these parts of a tiger are as unique as a human’s fingerprints. One of the accused managed to fake his own death during the trial and escaped to another state in India. However, he was identified through an informant’s tip to the WPSI (Wildlife Protection Society of India).
Since this society has launched a rewards stem for such tips. they now have more information to work with. For the past couple of decades, the WPSI has gained information that’s led to almost a thousand arrests. They’ve also developed a wildlife crime database, one of the largest ones ever. With the criminal profiles on this database, all those repeat offenders could be caught more easily.
Animals are revered, feared, and even sometimes worshipped by several cultures all over the world. Some people might harm animals because of the belief that they’ve been possessed, but the massive decrease of animal population due to poaching is very shocking. What makes it worse is that it’s the already wealthy people that are directly or indirectly supporting the trade of tigers and other beautiful, endangered creatures.
We can do our part here by refusing to buy anything that’s made of animal skin, or at least the skin and fur of an endangered creature. According to research, tigers just might be able to come out of their endangered status if they’re left alone. We should do all that’s in our power to make sure that the demand for tiger parts comes down–this includes spreading awareness and controlling our own purchasing.