February 3, 1996
Web posted at: 3:55 p.m. EST
BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Wildlife experts from around the world gathered recently in Bangkok for a conference aimed at saving the world's declining tiger population.
There are currently about 5,000 tigers left in the wild, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature says that poachers kill at least one of the magnificent cats every day. That means that some breeds of tiger in Asia will be extinct by the end of the century.
A market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is one of the few places in the world where tiger skins are sold in an open shop. Cambodia -- still emerging from the ravages of civil war -- is one of the world's poorest nations, with many priorities. Enforcing poaching laws is not one of them.
Wildlife preservation groups struggle against the odds to protect the tigers. At one zoo, Marshall Perry of Wildlife Preservation Cambodia points out a young tiger, confiscated from poachers. The cat will not be returned to the wild, because if he were, he would be recaptured within weeks.
"Most of the animals here at this zoo have been confiscated from illegal hunters and people trying to ship them out of the country," Perry says.
A dead tiger can fetch around $10,000 on the black market, where most of the animal's body parts are used for traditional Chinese medicines. Dried tiger genitals, for example -- thought to have aphrodisiac properties -- sell for around $4,000.
By 1998, the Chinese year of the tiger, the South China breed will be nearly extinct.
"I'm hoping that in the year of the tiger, the traditional Chinese medicine community will ask users to stop using tiger products until the tiger numbers recover," says Elizabeth Kemf of the World Wildlife Fund. (119K AIFF sound or 119K WAV sound)
But some Asian experts believe that the only way to save the tiger is to establish tiger farms. One such farm in Thailand has bred 35 animals and would like to farm tiger products. The Thai government, however, has so far refused to let it kill any of the animals.
"If you want to relieve the pressure on wild tigers being hunted, you need to set up a captive breeding operation," said Dr. Parntep Ratanakorn, a Thai wildlife adviser.
Others say it's not that simple, that the effect may be just the opposite of what is intended.
"Tiger farming should be banned because it would accelerate the trade in tigers," said Valmik Thapar of the Wildlife Institute of India. (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound) Thapar said that he fears the introduction of tiger farms will put his country's tiger population -- 60 percent of the world's tigers live in India -- at greater risk.
"Because there will be 100 more people jumping in to compete," he says.
All those who attended the wildlife preservation conference in Bangkok agreed that the wild tiger is on a fast track to extinction, and all agreed that a plan of action is needed now.
The problem is trying to get agreement on a plan from all 12 Asian nations where tigers roam free.
Copyright © 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.