A SEEMINGLY insatiable demand by Chinese and Taiwan communities for traditional medicines made from the bones of endangered tigers led 40 members of the United States Congress last week to ask President Clinton to impose trade sanctions on the two countries for illegal traffic in Siberian tigers. The White House says Mr. Clinton will act soon on a Security Council recommendation regarding sanctions on Taiwan.
Only about 3,000 tigers are still living throughout the world. At the current rate of slaughter, these magnificent animals will likely be extinct in the wild by the turn of the century, says Michael Day, founder and chairman of the British-based Tiger Trust, a private conservation organization.
China and Taiwan have repeatedly stated that they will comply with the Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which bans trade in products made from endangered species and insists that they prohibit the use of tiger bones. But secret videotapes made by Tiger Trust investigators and played to reporters in Washington on March 29 showed Chinese officials boasting that they had continued to use tiger bones in medicines.
The use of bones of the Amur or Siberian tiger, whose numbers have fallen from 370 in 1989 to only 150 today, is particularly alarming. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's economic decline, and the opening of the China-Russia border to trade, Chinese merchants and corrupt Russian officials have declared open season on the world's remaining Siberian tigers, according to the Tiger Trust.
Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, Sen. James Jeffords (R) of Vermont, and other members of Congress wrote to Clinton asking him to impose trade sanctions against illegal wildlife imports from China and Taiwan under the Pelly Amendment, which permits action against countries that violate international conservation laws. But US officials, along with other delegates of the 122 countries belonging to CITES, rejected a Tiger Trust call for sanctions at a meeting in Geneva last month and instead applauded China for its cooperation.
Tiger bone sells for about $300 a pound in China. It is ground up and mixed with other substances to make medicine for sexual impotence and other conditions. One factory shown in the secret videotape makes 750,000 tiger bone poultices a day, Mr. Day says. They are then sold in China, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the US, and Russia.