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Tiger conservationists are worried that China may push through a proposal to allow the domestic trade in tiger parts at an upcoming meeting on March 18, since most Indian government officials would be busy attending a meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to the Hindustan Times.

When I met with local conservationists last month, several lamented China's insistence on bulling along with its "tiger farms" -- breeding facilities that the PRC claims will flood the market with tiger parts, and thus drive poachers out of business.  The possibility that the Chinese will be able to eliminate a ban on the trade in tiger parts within their borders is a grim one.

(1) Propping up a trade in farmed tigers would encourage the superstitious beliefs in the power of tiger parts to treat "illnesses" like age-related impotence, thus setting back any progress that has been made in convincing Chinese people to stop buying the critically endangered species.

(2) It would necessitate a complex system of tracking farmed tigers -- like blood diamonds or carpets made with child labor -- which has in other instances proven exceedingly difficult to police.

(3) Many believe that it would stimulate demand once again for wild tigers, as potential customers would be skeptical that the characteristics of the animal would be retained once it became a farmed breed.

According to the HT, China already has about 5,000 captive tigers.  Indian environment ministry officials said China was “lobbying hard” to ensure its proposal to allow them to sell them for parts is accepted.

“We took a lead in opposing a similar Chinese proposal at the last meeting of the convention in Hague,” the paper quoted an official as saying.

The Indian PM has called a meeting of National Board for Wildlife on March 18, in which conservation and protection of tigers and other wildlife species are likely to be discussed.

Senior environment ministry officials are in a dilemma as they cannot afford to miss either of the meetings, said the HT.