Friday, July 13, 2007

China's tiger wine threatens Gir lions:


China’s tiger wine threatens Gir lions:

Times of India Ahmedabad Edition By: Robin David

Ahmedabad: Gujarat may have nabbed the gang from Madhya Pradesh that killed lions in Gir and surrounding areas. But this is not the end of poaching of the big cat in Gujarat, the only home of the Asiatic lion in the world.

Experts believe Gujarat will have to brace itself for more poaching attempts given the increasing demand for lion bones in China. A recent issue of Cat News, a magazine of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Chinese government had given permission to a firm to make ‘bone-strengthening wine’.

Although it is known as ‘tiger bone wine’, its main ingredient is the African lion, parts of which can be traded in a controlled manner. The authors believe this will only fuel more demand for bones, both of the lion and the tiger. The firm is a subsidiary of the Zhou Weisen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village, the most prominent tiger breeding centre in China.

The wine is apparently prepared by dipping lion carcasses in vats of rice wine. Zhou Weisen claims to have 200 African lions on its farm, but very few have been noticed, states Cat News. This has made senior officials in the Gujarat forest department wonder if remains of the poached lions had found their way to China for such preparations. “This is the first time that Gir lions have been killed and all their bones and nails have disappeared,” says Gujarat chief conservator of forest, Pradeep Khanna. “While there is a known domestic market for lion nails, the bones are not consumed locally. We are almost certain that these have made it to China.”

According to sources, one bottle of the wine costs $ 120. The Chinese government has given permission to produce four lakh bottles. Cat News states that genetic analysis of the wine was carried out, but the DNA was too fragmented to identify the species. Sources in the Gujarat forest department add that given the profit margins and the fact that it would be easier to smuggle lion bones into China, there is every possibility of more poaching attempts in Gir.

 “We definitely have not seen the end of poaching in Gir,” says Y V Jhala, faculty at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun and a member of the Gujarat government’s technical committee formed after the recent poaching incidents. “I am certain that lion bones are being passed off as those of tigers in China. One can only increase the cost of poaching by being more vigilant.”

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