One of the most urgent threats to tigers in the wildlands of Asia today is the continuing demand for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) containing tiger parts, primarily bone, used to treat painful illnesses such as arthritis and rheumatism. Although tiger bone use goes back at least a thousand years, the trade and the poaching of tigers has increased significantly in the last decade as the combined result of depletion of Chinese tiger bone stocks, expanding East Asian economies, and political instability in key tiger range countries. Most experts now agree that the trade of tiger bone for TCM has been one of major factors underpinning the tiger crisis of the 1990s.
Addressing this problem requires a two-pronged approach that combines strengthened enforcement of CITES and other wildlife trade controls with culturally appropriate community outreach and education initiatives to curb marketplace demand for endangered species medicines. International Political pressure has recently led to important trade control improvements in key East Asian consumer countries. Yet, ultimately, the consumer demand for tiger products must also be addressed if global tiger conservation efforts are to be effective over the long-term. For sociological and cultural reasons, reducing demand for tiger medicinal products requires working from within the TCM community. As the work of TRAFFIC has underscored, successful promotion of tiger bone substitutes, which do exist, requires support from TCM experts themselves, for only they have the credibility to persuade TCM users that other products are effective. However, such efforts should be undertaken within the context of the broader threats to the tiger's survival.
Taking up the charge, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM), Chinese Association for World Wildlife Conservation, American Chinese Zhi-Qing (Intellectuals) Association have formed a unique partnership in San Francisco to build public support for tiger conservation and reduce reliance upon tiger products. By combining the expertise of both institutions and targeting the broad Chinese-American public and a more specialized community of TCM practitioners, retailers, educators, and consumers, our tiger conservation message has reached to thousands of users or potential users of TCM. Because Chinese communities worldwide often maintain close communication ties, the impact of the program is being felt well beyond the immediate target audiences.
1998 as the "The Year of the Tiger" offered an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to TCM and broader Chinese and Asian audiences, both in the United States and the world on tiger conservation issues. Because of the deep cultural significance of the tiger, the outreach program developed by WWF and ACTCM has achieved great success in reaching key communities in a way that is culturally credible and scientifically-sound, and will serve as a replicable model for similar efforts in other places.
As the Year of the Tiger comes to a close, both conservationists and TCM constituencies must resolve to secure a sustainable future for this majestic species so that generations to come may celebrate its living prominence in the Chinese culture. The outreach and education efforts championed by the San Francisco TCM community offers hope for such a future. The partnership is an inspiring example of vision and leadership from a community clearly committed to wildlife conservation.
WWF would like to thank The Save the Tiger Fund of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Exxon Corporation, Johnson and Johnson Corporation, and the Dodge Foundation for their generous support.