India is seeking China’s cooperation in protecting its national animal the tiger. Working under the broad framework of the climate accord signed in Copenhagen earlier this year, India wants tiger conservation to be a part of the proposed bilateral agenda the two countries signed on protecting the environment and natural resources. According to the same agreement, the two countries recently shared information on infrastructure projects built on the Brahmaputra which flows into India from Tibet. If agreed on, this trans-Himalayan agreement to calibrate national strategies would be the first of its kind.
Citing poaching for Chinese medicine and dwindling natural resources as major factors for the big cats abysmal numbers, India is hoping China will not only help apprehend poachers but will also provide information and statistics on threats the tiger faces. According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, 15 tigers have already been illegally killed this year. In 2009, 60 tigers were killed through poaching and seizures. India has less than 1,400 tigers in the wild.
“I would like to work very closely with the Chinese on tiger conservation. China is one of the reasons our tiger population is being decimated,” India’s environment minister told the Financial Times.
A contentious issue between the two nations, India blames the demand of tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as the main cause for the dwindling numbers. Deep seated beliefs in China mean men eat tigers penis and eyes for virility and tiger bones are crushed for strength and as an antidote to arthritis and other joint ailments. While China banned the domestic trade of tiger bones in 1993 and TCM removed tiger bone from its official pharmacopoeia tigers are still poached and smuggled into China from India and Nepal.
Of the eight original sub-species of tigers, three have become extinct in the last 60 years. The Bali tiger became extinct in the 1930s. The Caspian tiger was forced into extinction in the 1970s. And the Javan tiger followed in the 1980s.
The number of tigers in the 1900s which was over 100,000 dropped to 4,000 in the 1970s. Today, they are a critically endangered species with the total of all the wild populations of the five remaining subspecies (Bengal tigers, Indo-Chinese tigers, Siberian tigers, South China tigers, and Sumatran tigers) to be roughly estimated anything between 4,600 and 7,700.