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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Fewer than 50 wild tigers left in China: expert

February 10, 2010

Ben Blanchard
February 8, 2010

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has an estimated 50 or
fewer tigers left living in the wild, but efforts
to stabilize one population in the bleak
northeast are starting to pay off, a conservationist said on Monday.

Tigers once roamed huge swathes of China, right
up to the now booming east coast. Their
population has collapsed due to habitat
destruction on the back of rapid economic
development and poaching for tiger products to use in traditional medicine.

About 10 still live in the southwestern province
of Yunnan, some 15 in Tibet, and 20 or so in
northwestern Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces,
said Xie Yan, China Country Program Director of
the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The South China Tiger is probably already
extinct, she told the Foreign Correspondents Club
of China, ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year of
the Tiger, which starts on Sunday.

"The number of wild tigers left in China is very
depressing," Xie said. "We have less than 50
individuals in the wild. The populations in Tibet
and in the south are still dropping.

"The northeast tiger is now stable, and maybe
increasing a little, but the number is still very small," she added.


Conservationists say the trade in skin and bones
is booming in countries such as China, which has
banned the use of tiger parts in medicine but
where everything from fur and whiskers to eyeballs and bones are still used.

Skins sell as rugs and cloaks on the black
market, fetching up to $20,000 for a single pelt.

Activists say tough laws and occasional
well-publicized clampdowns cannot compensate for
a crucial problem -- the lack of strong and consistent enforcement.

Barely 3,500 tigers are estimated to be roaming
wild across 12 Asian countries and Russia,
compared with about 100,000 a century ago, conservationists say.

In December, a Yunnan court sentenced a man to 12
years in jail for killing and eating what may
have been the last wild Indochinese tiger in China.

The Indochinese tiger is also on the brink of
extinction, with fewer than 1,000 left in the
forests of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.

Xie said the Tibetan and Yunnan tigers have the
bleakest futures, as their populations are both tiny and isolated.

The northeast tigers, though small in number in
China, are far more numerous just across the
border in Russia, where around 500 still live in
an area with a far lighter human presence.

"We think that the best hope for wild tigers in
China is in the northeast, because it is
connected to the bigger population in Russia," she added.

"The rest of the populations are too small and
not connected," Xie said of the Yunnan and Tibet tigers.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)
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