Or indeed an elephant or a polar bear?
Generally this would seem to be a frivolous question to which the wags would reply – “Yes, you’d better do so before he eats you”.
Now however, the CITES meeting in Bangkok has given us pause to think. I will explain. There are two World bodies which could be described as ‘symbiotic’. CITES and the IUCN.
IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has assessors whose job it is to decide how far any species is from extinction, the most disturbing category of which is ‘critically endangered’. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is tasked with preventing the ‘critically endangered’ from becoming ‘extinct’, but, as its name implies, only when those species or their parts or extracts are traded internationally.
In Bangkok, as so often happens, those creatures at the top of the food chain and with virtually no predators other than man, are the most hotly discussed.
I ask the question about the tiger (Panthera tigris) because the Bengal Tiger is only listed as ‘endangered’.
WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) would have it that there are only 3200 tigers left in the wild. This figure may be reasonably accurate for India where there are said to be 1706, but for some other countries population figures are ‘not known’ or are just guessed at. For instance Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are reckoned to have only 30 each.
So how ‘endangered’ IS the Tiger?
Well he’s not likely to die out, because there 5000 in Tiger farms in China alone. The idea of ‘farming’ this magnificent animal may shock some, so why do the Chinese do it? The answer is that when dried and ground up the penis of the Tiger is thought to have aphrodisiac properties.
The Chinese government are under pressure particularly from abroad, to shut these down, but it will appear obvious that if this happens then the wild population will be under much greater threat from poachers.
So back to my original question. We do know that ‘wine’ is made from Tiger bones and there is a ready, if illegal market in ‘pelts’, but my guess is that tiger meat is fed back to other tigers.
The Polar Bear, (Ursus maritimus) on the other hand now has a wild population of between 20,000 and 25,000 and is only listed by IUCN as ‘vulnerable’.
A move by certain organisations to ban hunting was amazingly defeated by Canada with the support of WWF. Apparently about 600 bears are killed each year by the native Inuit in ‘traditional’ hunts, after which skins and body parts are all used, some as trophies by foreign hunters.
By allowing the Inuit to exploit this ‘resource’ they are expected to treat the remaining animals with greater respect and not to poach them illegally.
Elephants however are a ‘different matter’. In certain parts of Africa the population is ‘exploding’ and there are estimated to be between 300,000 and 600,000 in the wild. IUCN thus rate Loxodonta africana as merely ‘endangered’.
I’m sure if someone could prove that some African tribesmen have always hunted elephants in a ‘traditional’ manner, they would be allowed to continue, but the big argument rages over the use and availability of the very valuable ivory tusks.
The ‘gang of eight’ countries which favour the continuity of the ivory trade includes Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and China. Most of the remaining 170 member countries either opposed the trade, abstained or were not present at the vote.
It remains to be seen if the ‘Jumbo-huggers’ in the rest of the world can stop those East African countries who export ivory from profiting from a major natural (and renewable) resource.
Meanwhile Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe has an estimated 35,000 elephants which reports say, is ‘far greater than it can sustain’.
Biased and alarmist reporting by the Guardian’s Damian Carrington is unhelpful.
Thus the status of three iconic creatures will again be discussed at the next CITES meeting, but hey, if none of these critters could be classified as ‘endangered’ there’d be no ‘Convention on the Trade’ in them, and activists and Guardian reporters would have to ’make do’ with Climate conferences if they wanted to go ’junketing’.
Can you eat Elephant? Apparently you can.
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