Skin Trade Threatens World's Few Surviving Tigers
"Commercial trade of tiger skin stemming out of female fantasy and vanity appears as a major threat to tigers in most tiger range countries," said S.C. Dey, general secretary of the Global Tiger Forum.
In Asia, tiger skins can sell for $15,000 while in Vietnam a skeleton, the bones widely believed by Asians to be an aphrodisiac, can fetch as much as $25,000.
"It is believed that about 100 years back, the global population of wild tigers was about 100,000," Dey said. "However, the population dwindled to 8,000 by 1960. Today it stands at around 5,000 to 7,000."
The forum is an inter-governmental body set up to save the surviving tigers in the wild in 14 countries including Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Russia, Nepal, China, Bangladesh and North Korea.
Dey said three out of the eight sub-species of tigers were already extinct - the Bali tiger in 1940, the Caspian tiger in the 1970s and Javan tiger in the 1980s.
Another sub-species, the South China tiger, could also soon disappear.
"Whether tigers still exist in North Korea is doubtful and debatable," he said, noting that statistics were not available.
Officials said illegal poaching of wildlife, especially in large parts of south and southeast Asia, is to blame for the reduction in the wild tiger population.
"Illegal hunting of wildlife has not been strictly controlled resulting in the severely decreased population of tigers in Vietnam," said Vietnam Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat.
The number of wild tigers in Vietnam does not exceed 150, he said.
Vietnam had clinched several agreements with neighbouring countries, including China, Laos and Cambodia, to halt trans-border tiger poaching, he said.