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Footage Proves Massive Increase in Tiger Skin Trading

1 October 2005

Dramatic new findings released today from investigations in China and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) reveal the previously unknown scale of the trade in tiger and leopard skins. Skins are being openly traded in China and TAR on a scale that triggers real fear over the future of the wild tiger.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), who first pioneered undercover investigation into crimes against wildlife and the environment 21 years ago, and the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) have just returned to the UK from investigations conducted in August this year.

EIA and WPSI have obtained footage revealing the staggering size of the market for tiger and leopard skins – much of which is being used for costumes and ceremonial events. Investigators attended horse festivals across the Tibetan plateau where many people, including the organisers and officials, were wearing costumes decorated with tiger and leopard skins, known locally as chubas. The costumes had been bought within the last two years and the traders categorically stated that the tiger skins had come from India.

Since EIA’s visit last year, there has been a massive increase in the availability of tiger and leopard skins in Lhasa, TAR. In the 46 shops surveyed, 54 leopard skin chubas and 24 tiger skin chubas were openly displayed, 7 whole fresh leopard skins were presented for sale and, within the space of 24 hours, investigators were offered three whole, fresh tiger skins.

In one street alone in Linxia, China, more than 60 whole snow leopard and over 160 fresh leopard skins were openly on display – with many more skins rolled up in the back. The investigators also found over 1800 otter skins, which are also used to decorate costumes.

The quantity and blatant display of tiger and leopard skins in TAR and China demonstrates a lack of awareness among consumers about the plight of the tiger, and the urgent need for targeted enforcement to stop traders from smuggling and illegally selling the skins of tigers and leopards.

Debbie Banks, EIA’s Senior Campaigner, stated:

“In the last five years, the international community has seen the trade in tiger and leopard skins spiral out of control. If this trade continues unabated for another five years, it will be the end for the wild tiger. It is imperative that the Indian and Chinese governments stop this trade now, before time runs out.”

Huge seizures of tiger, leopard and otter skins in India and Nepal indicate the existence of highly organised criminal networks behind the skin trade. They operate across borders, smuggling skins from India through Nepal into China, and continue to evade the law.

Belinda Wright, WPSI’s Executive Director said:

“This is the first time that the sheer scale and seriousness of the problem has been exposed. The volume of skins openly for sale is shocking. It is a thriving, uncontrolled market, which may explain the increased poaching of tigers in India that has left at least one tiger reserve devoid of tigers and four others almost empty.”

EIA and WPSI appeal to the Tibetan people to stop wearing endangered tiger and leopard skins, and urge international organisations to support awareness initiatives to get the message to consumers as fast as possible.

EIA and WPSI are calling on the Indian government to immediately establish a professionally-led enforcement unit to target the wildlife criminals who are controlling the trade, and the Chinese government to undertake enforcement actions to stop the smugglers and traders of tiger and leopard skins.

To find out more about EIA visit www.eia-international.org
To find out more about WPSI visit www.wpsi-india.org



For more information, please contact:
Ashley Misplon on 0207 354 7984 / 07931 500 752 or
ashleymisplon@eia-international.org
Debbie Banks on 0207 354 7960 / 07773428360 or
debbiebanks@eia-international.org

Notes to editors:

· Images, footage and interviews with investigators are available upon request.
· 25.09.05 is International Tiger Day - there will be events taking place all over the world to draw attention to the illegal trade in tiger products, with unique information coming out of Thailand.
· This month marks EIA’s 21st Anniversary – they have established themselves as the world’s leading organisation dedicated to investigating and exposing environmental crime.
· The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) works closely with Indian enforcement authorities, providing actionable intelligence on tiger and leopard poaching and trafficking.
· EIA and WPSI attended two major horse festivals in Litang and Nagchu, and two county-run horse festivals at Koluk and Sangshung in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) between 1st August and 30th August 2005.
· EIA and WPSI investigators conducted two separate market surveys of Lhasa in TAR between the 8th and 11th August and the 15th and 16th August 2005, and a survey in Linxia in Gansu Province on the 18th and 19th August 2005.
· EIA first visited Lhasa in May 2004 and reported their findings to the Chinese authorities. EIA later published the information in a report, “The Tiger Skin Trail”.
· The Chinese Government is reportedly discussing the reopening of domestic trade in tiger bone. EIA and WPSI, as part of the Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking, are warning of the difficulties this would create in cracking down on the illegal trade in wild tigers.

___________________________________________________

Ashley Misplon
Communications & Press Coordinator
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
62/63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
+44 207 354 7984 direct line
+44 207 354 7960 telephone
+44 207 354 7961 fax

www.eia-international.org