China permitting commercial trade in the bones of threatened leopards while India and Nepal have rampant poaching/trafficking… join the dots…

On 25 May 2018 the Environmental Investigation Agency  (EIA) published a piece titled:

Chinese Government permitting commercial trade in the bones of threatened leopards

You can read the publication HERE.  Included in the text is:

The Chinese Government has allowed trade in 1,230.5kg of leopard bone between pharmaceutical companies – representing the bones of more than 100 leopards

and

Leopards are Asia’s most traded big cat and poaching to meet demand for their body parts, primarily from Chinese consumers, is one of the biggest threats to their survival.

More than 4,900 leopards have been seized from illegal trade since 2000 and this figure likely represents a fraction of leopard parts being trafficked. Demand for their bones for use in production of ‘tonic’ drinks and traditional ‘medicines’ is a major driver of this trade.

‘Legal’ trade in wildlife body parts is to a large degree connected to illegal supply, in this case the poaching of leopards.  The Indian leopard (panthera pardus fusca) is hunted in and trafficked from India and Nepal in large numbers.  These countries are two of China’s border neighbours  and illegal wildlife trade in South Asia is well documented as being a huge problem, a considerable threat to ecosystems.   Seizures of leopard skins and other body parts (especially bones) are commonplace pointing to a far greater problem with analysts (including ourselves) estimating that for every seizure there are 4 to ten dead leopards trafficked.  The EIA piece points to a “loophole in China’s Wildlife Protection Law which leaves the door wide open for commercial trade in endangered species; one of these allows trade for the purposes of heritage conservation.”

At this stage the scale of ‘legal trade’ is unknown but unlike the ‘tiger farm’ scenario which exists in China and other parts of Asia there is nothing of the same scale for leopards which do not cope well with captivity.  Therefore the most likely supply of leopard body parts for commercial trade is from illegal sources.

India has strong laws prohibiting the poaching and trafficking of leopard body parts but enforcement is often under resourced and the judicial system is slow.  In Nepal the situation is more problematic as the leopard is not on the Protected Species List meaning that investigation emphasis is not as strong as it needs to be and light sentences which prove to be little deterrent are commonplace.  Through our parent body WildTiger we are working with authorities in Nepal to address these situations.

The problems and solutions are two fold.  For leopard populations to escape free fall China needs to act quickly and effectively in ridding itself of the loopholes in its Wildlife Protection Law so there is no commercial trade.  Strict enforcement on this issue is required leading to more emphasis on law enforcement on what will then be illegal trade.  At ground level on the Indian sub continent the leopard needs greater protection from poachers.

In Nepal the  LTF is working with relevant bodies in law enforcement and the conservation sector to increase protection.  This is a work in progress but  there is a strong sense of urgency on our part.  Stronger anti-poaching capacity outside the established protected areas means the targeting of traders sourcing leopards in challenging terrain.  The addition of the leopard to the Protected Species List of Nepal is crucial as is greater emphasis on education as to the vital role played by apex predators.

This latest revelation by EIA (an organization we collaborate strongly with) is of serious concern.  If leopards killed in India and Nepal are then trafficked to China to feed a ‘legal’ market then the problem compounds an already flourishing illegal trade as leopard skin values continue to escalate.

This update replaces our intended report on LTF progress on solutions as shown in the main menu above.  We’ll bring more on project activity in the next update in June.  For now this latest issue adds to an already heavy workload.  We thank those who offer tangible help and support.  Our mandate is Action, that will continue.