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For Magic and Medicine, Sumatran Tigers Are Traded to Extinction

WASHINGTON, DC, February 13, 2008 (ENS) – Body parts of critically endangered Sumatran tigers are being openly sold in Indonesia despite international and Indonesian laws forbidding it and a recent Indonesian government commitment to protect the animals, according to a report issued Tuesday by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Tiger body parts, including canine teeth, claws, skin pieces, whiskers and bones, were on sale in 10 percent of the 326 retail outlets surveyed during 2006 in 28 cities and towns across Sumatra, the investigators found.


Tiger bones for sale in Sumatra
(Photo by Julia Ng courtesy
TRAFFIC)

Outlets for tiger parts included goldsmiths, souvenir and traditional Chinese medicine shops, and shops selling antique and precious stones.

The survey conservatively estimates that 23 tigers were killed to supply the products seen, based on the number of canine teeth on sale.

“This is down from an estimate of 52 killed per year in 1999–2002,” said Julia Ng, program officer with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and lead author on report, “The Tiger Trade Revisited in Sumatra, Indonesia.”

“Sadly, she said, “the decline in availability appears to be due to the dwindling number of tigers left in the wild.”

Tiger parts, especially the bones and penis have long been used in Chinese Traditional Medicines. The bones are used to treat rheumatism while the penis is soaked in wine and drunk as an aphrodisiac. In Sumatra, tiger parts are often used for magical purposes. They are made into jewelry believed to confer good luck and protection on the wearer.

“Small pieces of skins are used to protect the owner from black magic or used by a Shaman to cast black magic spells on others,” the TRAFFIC report states.

In Indonesia today, wild tigers are found only on the island of Sumatra following the extinction of the Bali tiger and the Javan tiger during the last century.

The Sumatran tiger is listed as Critically Endangered on the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Trade in live tigers or tiger parts is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.


Illegal tiger skin in Indonesia
(Photo by Julia Ng
courtesy TRAFFIC)

Within Indonesia, the tiger is a Protected species under the Act No.5 of 1990 Concerning Conservation of Living Resources and their Ecosystems, which prohibits killing, possession, transfer/transport and trade in live, dead or parts of Protected species and provides for a large fine and a long prison term for violators.

So the problem is not a lack of laws, it is a lack of law enforcement, TRAFFIC concludes.

All intelligence information obtained on the names and addresses of retail outlets selling tiger parts from TRAFFIC’s 1999–2002 survey were given to the Indonesian authorities, at province and federal level, prior to the report being published. But TRAFFIC says, “Unfortunately, little or no action was taken by the Indonesian authorities against these retail outlets selling tiger parts or the retail outlets’ owners.”

“Because of poor enforcement the Sumatran tiger is slipping through our fingers,” said Leigh Henry, program officer for TRAFFIC North America.

“There are only about 400 Sumatran tigers left and such a small population can’t sustain this level of poaching,” he said. “If enforcement and political will are not bolstered the Sumatran tiger will be wiped out just as the Javan and Bali tigers were.”

Again, TRAFFIC has given the findings of this report, including the names and addresses of the retail outlets found selling tiger parts to the enforcement authorities in April 2007, and hopes that action will be taken against these retail outlets.

The TRAFFIC report recommends that resources and efforts should concentrate on effective enforcement to combat the trade by arresting dealers and suppliers.

All of TRAFFIC’s surveys have indicated that Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, and Pancur Batu, a smaller town situated about nine miles away, are the main hubs for the trade of tiger parts. But there were no tiger cases brought to the Indonesian criminal court in these two cities between 2004 and 2006.


Sumatran tiger with snare wounds in
the Medan Zoo (Photo by Chris
R. Shepherd courtesy TRAFFIC
Southeast Asia)

Trade hotspots should be continually monitored and all intelligence be passed to the enforcement authorities for action. Those found guilty of trading in tigers and other protected wildlife should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, TRAFFIC recommends.

“It is obvious that no amount of tiger action plan workshops and tiger trade surveys conducted will save the Sumatran Tiger,” Ng wrote in the report. “What is needed now is for strict enforcement to take place in Sumatra to stop the poaching of tigers and the trade.”

“We have to deal with the trade. Currently we are facing many other crucial problems which, unfortunately, are causing the decline of Sumatran tiger populations,” explained Dr. Tonny Soehartono, director for biodiversity conservation, Ministry of Forestry of Republic of Indonesia.

“We have been struggling with the issues of land use changes, habitat fragmentation, human–tiger conflicts and poverty in Sumatra,” Soehartono said. “Land use changes and habitat fragmentation are driving the tiger closer to humans and thus creating human–tiger conflicts.”

Sumatra’s few remaining tigers are also under threat from rampant deforestation by the pulp and paper and palm oil industries. The combined threats of habitat loss and illegal trade, unless tackled immediately, will be “the death knell for Indonesian tigers,” TRAFFIC warns.

“The Sumatran tiger is already listed as Critically Endangered on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, the highest category of threat before extinction in the wild,” said Jane Smart, head of IUCN’s Species Program. “We cannot afford to lose any more of these magnificent creatures.”

As a recent show of commitment to tiger conservation, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched the Conservation Strategy and Action Plan of Sumatran Tiger 2007–2017 during the Climate Change Convention in Bali last December.

As Indonesia currently chairs the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network, TRAFFIC National Coordinator Dr. Ani Mardiastuti suggested the country should “Demonstrate leadership to other ASEAN countries by taking action against illegal trade, including in tiger parts.”

The report, “The Tiger Trade Revisited in Sumatra, Indonesia” is online at: www.traffic.org

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