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Environmental group says Tibetans responding to calls to abandon tiger, leopard skins

September 5, 2007

BEIJING, Sept 5 (AP): An environmental group says Tibetans are responding to calls to abandon the wearing of poached tiger and leopard skins, as evidenced by a decline in the practice at a major festival and markets in the region.

As recently as two years ago, hundreds of performers and honored guests at the annual horse festival in Lithang could be seen wearing robes adorned with the skins of endangered big cats and otters, the Environmental Investigation Agency said in a statement Wednesday.

However, this year, not a single such garment was observed by staff from the EIA and the Wildlife Protection Society of India, said the group, based in London and Washington, D.C. Markets in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, also showed a decline in the number of skins on sale, it said.

"The dramatic fall in the use of skins in the Tibetan region represents a major localized success story," the group said.

Trade in such skins is prohibited under both international and Chinese law, but the ban had been slackly enforced amid reports that Chinese officials encouraged the practice as a tourist draw.

However, a two-year public awareness program targeting the skins seems to have reversed their popularity, the groups said. Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, has also spoken out against wearing skins, sparking public gatherings to burn them that were eventually outlawed by Chinese authorities.

"Targeted awareness campaigns really do appear to have changed attitudes, but investigations show it is essential that these are backed up by intelligence-led enforcement to stop the skin traders and criminal gangs," said Debbie Banks, head of EIA's Tiger Campaign.

Despite the apparent success, tiger populations remain under intense pressure, with only about 3,000 left in the wild, half of them in India.

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