Tiger farming fails eco cause
Tiger farm owners suspected of supplying tigers to the illegal wildlife trade. -Vietnam News/ANN
HA NOI: An investigation into tiger farming has found that the practice does not help the conservation of tiger populations in Viet Nam.
Tiger farms, where the endangered species are kept in captivity and their carcasses and body parts later sold at lucrative prices, were the focus of a year-long investigation by law enforcement agencies and local non-government organisation Education for Nature-Viet Nam (ENV).
There are 101 captive tigers in Viet Nam, 84 of them kept at one of seven registered private establishments while 17 are at State zoos and rescue centres.
The country's wild tiger population is thought to be as low as 30 individuals.
ENV's Wildlife Trade Programme co-ordinator Nguyen Thi Van Anh said people who operated tiger farms had often claimed that the farms helped in efforts to protect the endangered animal.
"These claims are contradicted to the results of our investigation," she said.
"At least one tiger farm owner is directly involved in supplying tigers to the illegal wildlife trade.
"Police officers have seized 10 illegal tiger carcasses since 2005."
Van Anh said there were signs, such as wear on tiger paw pads, that the tigers were from tiger farms.
"The results of the investigation showed that illegal activities could be based on irregularities in tiger birth and death records at some farms," she said.
"For example, at one farm, 24 tiger deaths were documented since 2006. "However, only 10 of these deaths were accompanied by papers showing that the remains had been incinerated.
"In addition, following the discovery of tigers at six private establishments in 2007, owners were fined and allowed to keep their tigers, though in nearly all cases, owners could not provide documentation showing that the tigers they possessed were of legal origin, as required by the law."
The investigation showed that irregularities in tiger farmers' reports to provincial authorities and generally ineffective monitoring of farms opened the possibility that these farmers, many of them obtained their original tigers illegally, continued to engage in illegal trade of tigers.
Le Viet Dung, deputy head of Dong Nai Province's Forest Management Department, said management of these farms was difficult as owners did not keep adequate documentation on the number of animals they kept and relevant authorities did not have enough staff to make regular checks.
According to ENV, enforcement is not supported by effective prosecution and punishment that would deter further violations.
Out of 27 arrests for illegal tiger trading that involved seizure of tigers and tiger parts, only four individuals were imprisoned, with sentences ranging from 16 to 24 months.
Records showed that most tiger traders arrested received suspended sentences (12 individuals) or probation (nine individuals).
In two cases involving tigers seized from homes, the offenders received no punishment.
Nguyen Ba Bo, a lawyer from the Ha Noi Bar Association, said there were sufficient legal provisions to ensure appropriate and effective punishment for offenders.
The new amended criminal code that takes effect next January allows for imprisonment of up to seven years and maximum fines of VND500 million (US$26,300) for selling, trading or possession of fully protected species such as tigers.
However, enforcement of these laws is another issue.
Van Anh said immediate action should be taken to stop the development of tiger farms in Viet Nam and assess the importance of each farm in terms of its benefits to conservation.
"Keeping tigers for non-commercial purposes reuires stringent measures to be put in place that assure compliance with the law," she said.
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