Online Tiger Sale Offer Condemned

By Julian Matthews, Newsbytes.
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA,

25 Oct 2000, 10:10 AM CST

**** Online Tiger Sale Offer Condemned 10/25/00 KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA, 2000 OCT 25 (NB) -- By Julian Matthews, Newsbytes. A Thai zoo owner's proposal to sell tigers over the Internet in an attempt to save the big cats from extinction has been condemned as "ludicrous" by Traffic, an international wildlife trade watchdog.

"We are appalled at the mere suggestion of tigers or tiger parts being traded online," said Traffic International Communications Manager Sabri Zain. "The suggestion that selling tigers over the Net will save them from extinction is ludicrous. The reverse may indeed be more likely. There is the very real possibility that it may even fuel a renewed demand that will drive tigers over the brink of extinction," he said via e-mail.

Traffic is the joint wildlife trade monitoring program of conservation organization World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) and IUCN, the World Conservation Union.

Chuvit Pitakpornpallop, a prospective lawmaker who owns a zoo with about 30 tigers in Thailand's northeast, made the suggestion in the Bangkok Post on Sunday.

Chuvit, who is standing in upcoming elections under the Thai Rak Thai Party banner, said that if Thailand amended its laws to allow commercial production and sale of tigers online, about 20,000 could be raised domestically over the next decade and wipe out black market demand.

Sabri countered that there appears to be no sound scientific basis for those figures. "Tigers are not cattle. The idea that a single country can 'raise' a population of tigers in captivity that is almost four times the total number of tigers in the wild today is far-fetched, to say the least. Previous experience with tiger farms has shown that breeding tigers can be fraught with problems," he said.

There are about 5,000 tigers left in the wilds of Asia, of which about half are found in Southeast Asia. Tiger bone and body parts are believed to have medicinal or strength-endowing qualities and fetch high prices on the black market.

Thailand and China are home to tiger "farms" set up in the 1980s in an attempt to supply the tiger trade and relieve poaching pressure on the critically endangered species. But subsequent national trade bans have prevented these plans from coming to fruition, and now the farms function as tourist attractions. Some farms have also previously been found to be fronts for selling captured wild tigers and fueling poaching, while others have reportedly purchased wild-caught tiger cubs to improve their breeding stock.

Headquartered in Cambridge, England, Traffic has been vigilant of the wildlife trade going online as a new means to escape detection. "We have detected Web sites offering a variety of products for sale ranging from live birds and reptiles to elephant ivory, shahtoosh shawls and tortoise shell ornaments, which are all banned under CITES," he said.

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which is aimed at protecting over 30,000 plants and animal species worldwide. The international agreement came into force in 1975 and has 145 signatories, including China and Thailand.

Sabri cited examples of illegal online trade that has flared up recently on the popular online auction site eBay. One user alerted the US Fish and Wildlife Service of an auction on eagle feathers in January 1999. In April 1999, a California taxidermist tried to sell a leopard skin and a frozen baby tiger cub online, while in January this year a user tried to auction items made of hawksbill turtle.

eBay's liability on this trade is unclear, although the company has tried to remedy the situation with a listing of prohibited animal and wildlife products under its Rules & Safety section.

Sabri said that, when Traffic spots sites which flout the ban it takes action by passing on the details to local CITES management and relevant enforcement authorities in the country of origin. Thailand, for example, could face sanctions from other signatory countries if it legalized the commercial breeding of tigers.

However, Sabri conceded that resolving the issue of wildlife trade on the Net is still "complicated and not as easy as it seems" because of uncertainties on legal jurisdictions.

"A wildlife trade item may be offered for sale on the Net and it may be perfectly legal for such items to be sold in the country of origin, but that same item may be prohibited under the national laws of the country where the buyer resides," he said.

Sabri pointed out that, although the Net has the potential for encouraging illegal trade, on the positive side, it has greatly enhanced conservation efforts.

"It is a valuable tool for biologists and other scientists around the world to share their latest research findings and information. It has allowed wildlife organizations to address global audiences, especially those that do not have the resources and budgets to publish and print material or mount expensive campaigns."

Sabri said the Net has also been used effectively to track wildlife migration and monitor crisis situations. During the 1998 forest fires in Indonesia, satellite pictures beamed onto the Web allowed biologists studying the orangutan to identify and monitor affected habitats.

More on tiger conservation efforts can be found at the Traffic Web site at http://www.traffic.org/tigers/

Reported By Newsbytes.com, http://www.newsbytes.com

10:10 CST
Reposted 10:34 CST

(20001025/WIRES ONLINE, LEGAL, BUSINESS/ATALL/PHOTO)

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