05/27/2008, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Vietnam's last tigers face extinction

In one decade, their number has been reduced to about a hundred, a third of their former level. The main cause is poaching: believed to be endowed with magical powers, all the parts of the animal are sold at high prices.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The tigers of Vietnam are at risk of extinction: in 1999, it was believed that were still between 200 and 300 wild tigers in the country, but now there are about a hundred.  The information has been supplied by the ministry for agriculture and agricultural development, in an alarming report that denounces the actions of poachers.

The pelt, bones, and flesh of the tiger offer, in fact, a possibility of illicit gain inferior only to weapons and heroin trading, according to the director of the Asian Animal Fund, Tuan Bedixen, cited by the government publication Vietnam News.  The traffic stems from the fact that all over the Far East, the tiger is considered an animal endowed with magical powers.  Apart from the pelt, which is considered a trophy, all the parts of the animal are used in traditional medicine to cure the widest variety of illnesses, or are simply eaten in order to gain strength.

The trafficking is concentrated in the big cities: last year, the environmental protection department of the Hanoi police found two live tigers in a storage facility belonging to traffickers, together with the frozen meat of four others.  It was the first time that live tigers had been found in an urban area.  Each of the two animals weighed about 250 kilos.  In the same raid, the police found other rare animals.  Also last year, the same police department found parts of two tigers in the freezer of an apartment in the capital.

But poaching is not the only problem for the future of Vietnam's tigers, the genetic purity of which is also threatened by illegal breeding.  The government views favourably the breeding of rare animals, but establishes rules to guarantee their pedigree, and demands that they be raised in environments that simulate their natural habitat.  But often, precisely because of trade, these conditions are not respected, and supervision is undoubtedly difficult.

The ministry for agriculture and agricultural development is forming a plan to safeguard the tigers that emphasises the protection of their natural habitat.

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