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Task force on tiger poaching to target criminal networks, UN agency says

Task force on tiger poaching to target criminal networks, UN agency says

The first meeting of a task force on wildlife crime got under way today in New Delhi, where government officials and law enforcement experts are discussing ways of curbing tiger poaching by targeting criminal networks, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement.

The meeting of the Tiger Enforcement Task Force, which will run through 4 April, includes experts and officials from tiger range States including Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia and Nepal, as well as from Canada and the Netherlands, which are consumer countries. The Task Force is part of CITES - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

"The CITES Tiger Enforcement Task Force is a vital initiative for saving the tiger from extinction," said the Convention's Secretary-General, Willem Wijnstekers. "By bringing together tiger and law enforcement experts from around the world, we aim to give tiger protection the technical support it so badly needs. It is particularly appropriate that India, the country where the largest number of tigers are still to be found, has offered to host this first meeting of the Task Force."

In 1999, a CITES Tiger Missions Technical Team that visited 14 tiger range and consumer States in North America, Europe and Asia confirmed that the Indian tiger population was being heavily poached by organized wildlife crime networks, posing a serious threat to the species' survival in the wild. The team recommended increased anti-poaching efforts and the creation of a Task Force to deal with the issue.

From a population of over 100,000 in the 19th century, the Earth's wild tiger population has plummeted to an estimated 5,000 to 7,000. Tigers range from India and Russia to China and South-East Asia, but several sub-species are thought to be already extinct. Although tiger hunting is illegal everywhere, and international trade in tigers and tiger products is completely banned under CITES, habitat destruction continues at a rapid pace, while live tigers continue to enter the illegal exotic pet trade and tiger skins are still bought and sold, UNEP said.