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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 September 2006, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Tiger skin trade 'getting worse'
By Shilpa Kannan
BBC News, Delhi

Tiger tug of war
Every participant was wearing tiger skins
Indian tiger skins are still openly bought and sold on the streets of China a year after the practice was exposed, two leading conservation groups say.

The animal is protected under the UN convention on international trade in endangered species - to which both India and China are signatories.

The conservation groups say all the skins on sale in China come from India.

Wildlife activists say if immediate action is not taken to save the tiger, it could soon become extinct in India.

Tiger-skin tent

The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency and the Wildlife Protection Society of India say that much of the selling goes on in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Tiger tent
A tent made up of 108 tiger skins

Investigators who visited Tibet and China in July and August found the situation is now worse than last year, the groups said.

They screened a video of the investigation - shot at major festivals in Tibet - at a press conference in Delhi.

The video showed images of Tibetan officials, tourists and even festival organisers wearing clothes made out of the tiger skin.

In one part, every participant in a tug-of-war is seen wearing tiger skins.

The highlight of the video was a tent made up of 108 skins.

Rampant poaching

An investigator with the Wildlife Protection Society of India, Nitin Desai, says since September last year, 27 tiger skins, 199 leopard skins and 254 otter skins have been seized in India and Nepal.

This, he says, represents only a fraction of the total number of tigers poached during the year.

Mr Desai says criminal groups used central Indian nomadic tribes, who have extensive knowledge of the tiger habitat, to poach the animal.

Rampant poaching of the animal has resulted in an alarming reduction in the number of big cats in the country's reserves.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set up a task force after reports last year that the entire tiger population of Sariska reserve in Rajasthan had been wiped out by poachers.

Declining numbers

Wildlife activist Valmik Thapar accuses India's wildlife protection agencies of apathy.

"Forest officials are underpaid, understaffed, and ill-equipped to protect tigers from often heavily armed poachers," he says.

A century ago there were about 100,000 tigers across Asia. Today, there are fewer than 5,000 in the world and half of them live in Indian forests.

Alarmed wildlife activists say the tiger population is not sustainable at this rate and they have called for immediate action from the government of India.

They say the tiger skins and bones are mostly smuggled into China through Nepal and have called for tripartite talks between the three countries.

Last year, the United Nations also issued an appeal asking the Indian government to take steps to save its tigers.

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