U.S.-China climate agreement offers hope for wild tigers
On November 12, 2014, China and the United States—the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carbon emitters, respectively—announced a bilateral promise to take significant climate action. The world applauded because its climatic fate rests, in significant part, with the two superpowers ending their I-won’t-unless-you-do stalemate.
The fate of the world’s last wild tigers is caught up in a similar China-U.S. tit-for-tat, and similar bilateral action is necessary to ensure their survival. If China and the U.S. can make the enormous economic and legal changes necessary to rein in global warming, surely they can rein in the relative handful of entrepreneurs and investors who own the approximately 6,000 captive tigers in private hands in each country—which, combined, number four times those struggling to survive in the wild.
In 2007, the U.N. treaty on international trade in endangered species—to which nearly every country on Earth is a member—decided that tigers should not be raised like livestock for commercial exploitation. In China, with the blessing of the country’s wildlife protection law, tigers are farmed for consumption of their parts and products. Some important observers in the international community argue that the thousands of U.S. tigers used for paid cub-petting and in private zoos are not so different.
Just as certain Chinese officials refused to cut carbon emissions unless the U.S. did so in equal measure, so are certain other Chinese officials refusing to phase out tiger farming without in-kind U.S. action. And who can blame them? At least Chinese officials know where China’s captive tigers are located. No U.S. agency, at the national or state level, knows how many tigers live here, where they all live, who owns them, how they’re all kept and—most worrying—what happens to them when they die. Do their skins and bones go into trade as the skins and bones of China’s farmed tigers do? Does anyone really believe some parts of U.S. tigers don’t go into trade when potential profits rival those from selling illegal drugs and guns?
The list of ways captive tigers in China and the U.S. differ is long—perhaps as long as the list of how China and the U.S. differ in their contributions to climate change. But the fundamental truth in both cases is that China and the U.S. must take unprecedented bilateral action to prevent irreversible disasters—one involving Earth’s atmosphere, the other the globally-loved king of Asia’s jungle.
If the U.S. and China can set aside their tit-for-tat impasse to forge a deal on climate change, surely they can do the same to stop the exploitation of captive tigers that keeps alive the demand that drives the killing of wild tigers.