Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 16:18 GMT
Mission to save the tiger
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
A group of international experts is starting work in Britain in an attempt to save the tiger.
The group is made up of wildlife experts appointed by CITES, the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Tigers are frequently killed so their bones and other parts can be used in traditional Far Eastern medicine, although CITES forbids all trade in tiger products.
The group starts in London, where tiger products used to be freely available in some Chinese pharmacies.
Police and customs officials believe now, though, that the trade is negligible.
Work in tiger states
The team then goes to the USA and Canada, before flying to the Far East to investigate law enforcement there.
It will also visit countries which have tigers in the wild - known as "range states" - to see anti-poaching programmes at work.
The experts will report to CITES, and will prepare the way for a policy mission, which will probably go to India and China later in the year.
That will be led by a senior British official from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Robert Hepworth who told BBC News Online he is hoping to raise consciousness:
"And we shall say the whole eco-system needs conserving, including the species on which tigers prey.
"Perhaps you cannot put a value on what tigers mean for a country's economy. But you can certainly put a value on conserving an eco-system."
The CITES mission will have no money to give away.
London Zoo is one group involved in identifying and funding projects in range states.
There are now thought to be no more than 7,500 tigers in the wild, and possibly as few as 5,000. Yet a century ago there were probably 100,000 or more.
Loss of habitat
Three sub-species have become extinct in the last 60 years - the Bali, Caspian and Java tigers. Nearly half of all wild tigers belong to the Bengal sub-species, found in India and several of its neighbours.
The other sub-species are the Indo-Chinese, Siberian, South China and Sumatra tigers. All are threatened by habitat loss and poaching for the traditional medicine trade.
Few experts believe any of the tigers has much chance of surviving in the wild without a radically new approach to conservation.