By Belinda Wright
Armed with a spycam, Belinda Wright entered Tibet posing as a buyer of tiger skin. To her horror, she not only found the endangered animal’s skin openly sold on the streets but also used as clothing by Tibetans.
Tibet is every bit as magical as I expected it to be. Its desolate and wind swept plains, mist-covered mountains, and stoic and friendly people, exceed one’s dreams. But Tibet also broke my heart when I visited its villages and towns in August this year, because unless urgent action is taken, its people will soon be responsible for the final demise of the endangered Indian tiger.
That may sound far-fetched, but it is true. Tibetans are now buying the skins of Indian tigers, leopards and other rare animals to wear as adornments at festivals. So great is the demand that the killings in India, and the illegal trade, are now spiralling out of control — and the governments of India and China are doing little to stop it. In fact, the growing trade in Tibet is probably the reason why poachers recently wiped out all the tigers in Sariska, and why numbers have fallen dramatically in a number of other ‘protected’ areas.
It was thanks to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that I made my horrifying trip. Asked in February this year, by EIA’s Debbie Banks, what would be the most useful support to our work here, I said without hesitation, “a visit to Tibet”.
I have worked with wild tigers and other endangered species in India for 35 years, and have been active in strengthening law enforcement against poachers and traders since 1994. But it has been a discouraging battle; the number of tigers is plummeting as demand from other countries fuels poaching. Indeed, we would be fortunate if we still have 2,000 tigers left in our jungles. More....