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Page last updated at 12:51 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 13:51 UK
Tiger skin trade in China exposed
By Jody Bourton
Earth News reporter

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Skins for sale

An undercover investigation has revealed the continued trade in tiger skins in China.

Covert filming by the Environment Investigation Agency shows traders selling skins of tigers and other rare animals such as snow leopards.

The skins are sold as luxury items and are used for clothes and home decor.

The campaigning group has published its investigation a few days before an international summit on big cat conservation in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Buying and selling big cat skins and body parts is illegal in China.

People are buying them for prestige, skins are very expensive and tend to cost around 20,000 US dollars each
Alasdair Cameron
Environmental Investigation Agency

However, a team from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), based in London, UK and Washington DC, US says its investigations reveal the trade in big cats still occurs in many parts of the country, including Tibet.

Between 25 July and 19 August 2009 the EIA carried out investigations in markets in five cities in western China.

Skin sale

In just 21 days the team was offered four full tiger skins, 12 leopard skins, 11 snow leopard skins and two clouded leopard skins as well as associated bones and teeth from the species.

"It's really quite significant," says EIA spokesperson Alasdair Cameron.

"What's interesting is the market has changed. Previously the market was for skins amongst the Tibetan community, that market has largely collapsed and what we're seeing now is skins bought for decoration and taxidermy amongst Chinese businesspeople," he says.

"People are buying them for prestige, skins are very expensive and tend to cost around 20,000 US dollars each," Mr Cameron explains.

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Other rare cat skins offered

"We're also being told skins are being used for non-financial bribery within China, so the demand is increasing outside of the Tibetan areas."

The EIA says the animals are being smuggled into China from various places including Tibet, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Covert operation

The team captured the illegal trade on film using a hidden camera while they enquired about animal skins on sale.

What surprised the team was how easy it was to find and purchase the endangered animal products.

"There is some law enforcement in China, in a few regions, but there are whole swathes of the country where this trade is allowed to carry on with almost no fear of detection," Mr Cameron says.

"Some of the places we have been to, skins are openly displayed in shop windows while police cars drive past."

Debbie Banks, lead campaigner of the EIA, believes not is enough is being done by the Chinese authorities to combat the trade.

"If China can put a man into space, they can do more to save the wild tiger," she says.

Tiger meet

On the 27 October a summit is being held in Kathmandu, Nepal to discuss how best to save wild tigers from extinction.

The Kathmandu Global Tiger Workshop will bring together tiger experts and conservation organisations from around the world to further efforts to protect the animal, especially running up to the Chinese calendar's year of the tiger in 2010.

However, Mr Cameron has mixed feelings about the forthcoming year of the tiger.

"We're hoping to use the year of the tiger as a way to highlight the threats faced by the animal but traders in China are actually saying that next year is going to be great because people will want to get a piece of the tiger in the year of the tiger."

"There could actually be a spike in demand."



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