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Tuesday, 27 January, 1998, 12:00 GMT
Tiger killings must stop says WWF
graphic
As the Chinese New Year approaches, wildlife campaigners are hoping that the celebration of the tiger will highlight its plight as an endangered species.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is to launch an international action plan to save the tiger on January 28 to coincide with the Chinese Year of the Tiger.

Tiger numbers are fast dwindling. According to the WWF, there are between 5,000 and 7,500 tigers left in the wild, mainly in national parks and protected areas.

"The situation for tigers is becoming increasingly precarious and we need to put tiger conservation on a more urgent footing," said WWF species conservation unit manager Dr Jean-Pierre d'Huart.

"Unless a series of urgent, immediate and long-term actions are taken to protect existing tiger populations, there will be very few of the magnificent felines left to ring in the next Year of the Tiger in 2010."

tigers
The WWF says tigers could face extinction
There are now no more than 30 tigers surviving in the wild in China, compared with more than 4,000 in the 1950s. This is not an example that the WWF wants other countries to follow.

The WWF will be focusing its efforts on India, where there are still about 3,000 tigers, about half the world's total. But it also wants to persuade all other countries with tiger populations to increase conservation areas where tigers can live and breed in the wild and to take further measures to prevent hunting and poaching.

Exploited for medical cures

However, one problem the WWF has to try to overcome is that of traditional Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine practitioners believe some tiger parts can cure a variety of medical conditions: the a tiger's penis soaked in alcohol is said to increase virility; its nose suspended over the marriage bed is believed to increase the chance of having a boy and its whiskers are said to cure toothache.

Sally Nicholson from the WWF acknowledged the role Chinese medicine has played in the decline of the tiger but said the Chinese government has taken action to confront these traditions: "It hasn't just been a decline for tigers in China, it has been a decline of tigers across Asia which have been poached to meet the demand for medicines across Far Eastern countries as well as European Union, United States, Canada.

"I do believe there has been a shift in attitude over the last few years and in China itself the Chinese authorities have removed the tiger and its parts from the national list of approved medicinal ingredients."

A recent investigation by the conservation group found that the open sale of tiger bone is more common in North America than elsewhere in the world.

More than 150,000 over-the-counter traditional Chinese medicines containing - or purporting to contain - tiger bone and parts from other critically endangered species are sold in the United States.

The WWF said the death of every tiger is now another nail in the coffin of the species as a whole.

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