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Hanoi Conference Presents Opportunity to Launch A Global Effort To Shut Down 'Tiger Farms' by 2019

On 17-18 November 2016, the Government of Vietnam will host the Third High Level Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade. This Conference follows the first conference held in London attended by HRH Prince William and a second Conference in Kasane, Botswana.

This meeting will be another critical pivot point to end wildlife crime. As the first one to be held in Asia, it serves to elevate deliberations on the region’s most iconic species – the tiger.

WWF is calling for the delegates to agree to close tiger farms by 2019.

A major new TRAFFIC report (Reduced to Skin & Bones Re-examined) on tiger trafficking released today in support of the discussions at the Conference, found that an estimated 30 percent of tigers seized by law enforcement agencies between 2012 and 2015 came from “tiger farms”.

This highlights the growing role of “tiger farms’ in the illegal trade. The report also reveals that on average at least 133 tigers (captive or wild) were killed and traded each year since 2008. The real number would certainly be far larger given that these figures come from reported seizures, while much of the total flow goes undetected.

‘Tiger farms’ are captive-bred tiger facilities that can seriously imperil the TX2 goal for wild tiger recovery.

15 years ago, commercial breeding of Tigers in Asia was extremely rare. Yet, currently, its rapid expansion has kept 7,000- 8,000 tigers in captive facilities – almost twice the number of wild tigers, estimated to be at 3,890. The facilities are often found to be involved in illegally selling or shipping tiger products such as tiger bone, skins meat, or even live animals.

Tiger farms have become a huge threat to the survival of wild tigers. They not only complicate enforcement efforts but also normalize the availability of tiger products and thus drives demand among the emerging consumer classes in certain areas of Asia.

Viet Nam is one of the four Asian countries where tiger farms are common, along with China, Thailand and Laos. It is increasingly a significant hub for tiger trafficking, as highlighted by the Wildlife Justice Commission at its recent public hearing in The Hague.

Two of the four aforementioned tiger farm countries have already taken a harder stance on these facilities in recent months. In October, Laos announced that it would close its tiger farms while Thailand has initiated investigations into all of its captive breeding facilities after the shocking discovery of 40 tiger cubs’ corpses at its Tiger Temple.

Thailand and Laos have already signaled an end to tiger farming: Viet Nam should join them and help lead efforts to ban commercial tiger breeding across Asia. There are no more excuses for allowing tiger farms to operate. The evidence is clear, while technical and financial assistance is available – all that’s needed is the political will - Thinh Van Ngoc, Country Director WWF Viet Nam

With commercial tiger breeding in Asia threatening the future of the world’s remaining wild tigers, WWF believes that governments should use this opportunity of the upcoming Hanoi conference to announce concrete steps to close all the continent’s tiger farms within the next three years. This would give an adequate time to ensure the tiger farms can be phased out in an orderly manner. It would also allow countries to meet their commitments under an international treaty on wildlife trade known as CITES in time for the next major meeting of the governments in Sri Lanka in 2019.

There is no longer any doubt that tiger farms are stimulating and expanding the illegal tiger trade or that they should all be closed down. The Hanoi conference is the perfect platform for governments to commit to shutting Asia’s tiger farms, which would contribute enormously to the survival and recovery of tigers in the wild. - Michael Baltzer, Leader of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative

Besides announcing plans to close all tiger farms, Asian governments can also take a series of immediate, concrete steps to ensure captive-bred tigers do not enter the illegal trade chain.

Three steps governments can commit to at the Conference:

  1. all governments should support an Indian proposal to create a regional stripe pattern database – one that can be used to compare images of seized tiger skins with camera trap photos of wild tigers and registration photos of captive tigers;
  2. countries can also move to compile sets of DNA markers from both wild and captive tiger populations within their country;
  3. those countries with high demand for tigers and tiger products can launch focused, evidence-based behavioural change programmes to reduce demand for tiger parts and products.

Any success on these issue in Hanoi conference will be a huge boost to the 13 Tiger Range Countries’ effort in doubling wild tigers by 2022. Given that the sixth year anniversary of the “Tiger Summit” and also halfway point of this TX2 effort is happening in November 23rd, such a positive outcome will be a most welcoming anniversary gift to all those who are striving to secure a long-term future for this iconic animal.

For more on WWF’s position on tiger farms, please refer here.

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