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Otsuchi, in northern Japan, is the focal point of the hand harpoon hunt which has claimed up to 15,000 Dall's porpoises in previous years.

In the most recent hunting seasons for which information is available, Japan allocated itself a quota of 13,493 Dall's porpoises in 2013/14, 12,928 in 2014/15 and 12,364 in 2015/16. The catch, however, has been significantly less than the quota for many years. In 2016, just over a thousand porpoises were killed.

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Minke whales dragged aboard the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru. Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia

Japan is proposing a slew of rule changes at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Florianópolis, Brazil this week that conservationists worry would ultimately lift a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

Japan, which launched a "scientific whaling" program in 1987 as a loophole to the moratorium, has killed more than 15,600 whales in the Antarctic since the ban (including juvenile and pregnant minke whales), according to a report released last month by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).

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Iceland's multi-millionaire rogue whaler Kristján Loftsson and his company Hvalur hf have resumed their slaughter of endangered fin whales in blunt defiance of the international ban on commercial whaling.

The hunt is Iceland's first in three years and marks the start of a whaling season that could see as many as 239 of these majestic creatures killed.

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By Debbie Banks

I recently had the privilege of being one of the preliminary judges for the International Big Cats Film Festival, the winners of which will be announced on March 2. What a luxury—to indulge my passion for big cats and watch hours and hours of some of the most amazing footage of tigers, snow leopards, jaguars and lions in the wild, coupled with stories of extraordinary courage, tenacity and innovation from those seeking to protect them.

It was truly inspiring and an absolute celebration of these magnificent animals.

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The world's last remaining tigers are living under severe threat of extinction, having lost 93 percent of their historical range and suffered a population crash of 95 percent during the past century.

The major threat to their continued existence on Earth is poaching to meet the high demand in Asia for their parts and derivatives.

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In legal tiger farms across China, some 6,000 caged cats are kept in filthy conditions and will be killed for dubious medicinal uses and as home decor for the country's newly-rich elite. The sordid business is mostly legal, but hides behind carefully-worded agreements and pretensions of conservation. The issue is expected to be addressed at this week's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Johannesburg.

Tiger breeding cages at Guilin Tiger Farm in China.Belinda Wright / Wildlife Protection Society of India

It is estimated that 60 percent of China's 1.4 billion people use so-called traditional medicines made from tiger bones, rhinoceros horn, bear gall bladder and other exotic animal parts. As China has grown in recent decades, creating a larger middle class and many newly rich entrepreneurs, demand for tiger parts has grown.

"The use of endangered tiger products and their medicines is seen as a symbol of high status and wealth," states Tigers in Crisis.

China signed on to CITES, but maintains about 200 tiger farms, where tigers are bred to serve this growing market. Claiming that these tiger parts are for domestic consumption, and therefore not subject to the treaty on international trade, China also defends the tiger farms as a captive breeding program that actually helps the species.

However, in 1993, China banned trading in tiger bone, and a 1988 wildlife law that purports to protect endangered species sets forth a policy of "actively domesticating and breeding the species of wildlife."

"What we didn't understand until very recently is that ban in 1993 did not supersede China's wildlife protection law, which was crafted in the 1980s and actually mandates the farming and consumption of tigers and other endangered species," author and wildlife activist Judith Mills told Yale Environment 360 in an interview last year.

Small pens house tigers.Environmental Investigation Agency

Among the luxury products made from these farmed animals is tiger bone wine, which can sell for $257 per 500 ml (about 17 ounces). But almost every part of the tiger is alleged to have some medical use: the brain, whiskers, eyeballs, nose, penis, tail and feet. Tiger skins and whole stuffed tigers are a status symbol in wealthy Chinese homes.

Far from saving the species, tiger farms promote demand for these body parts that makes poaching wild tigers even more lucrative.

"The problem with tiger farming is that it stimulates demand for tiger products, which stimulates poaching of wild tigers because products from wild tigers are considered superior, more prestigious and they're exponentially more valuable," Mills said.

The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) counts the number of tigers in the wild at 3,890.

Historic and current range of tigers in Asia.World Wildlife Federation

A February 2013 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency concludes that "wild Asian cats are being poached to supply the market demand stimulated by China's legal domestic trade in skins of captive-bred tigers at a time when the international community has agreed that demand reduction is essential to save wild tigers."

The report also notes that tiger farming and trade has spread to other Southeast Asia countries including Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Recently, Laos announced its intention to phase out tiger farms.

In July, the Environmental Investigation Agency called on CITES to adopt concrete measures to end tiger farms. Even if adopted, it remains to be seen if China will abide by the regulations or find another loophole. The Guardian reports that a farm in northeast China is cross-breeding tigers with lions, thus creating a "liger" that the Chinese say is not covered by its own 1993 law.

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