Until recently, habitat loss was thought to be the largest single threat to the future of wild tigers in India. It has now been established that the trade in tiger bones, destined for use in Oriental medicine outside India’s borders, is posing an even larger threat. Having decimated their own sources, Far Eastern traditional medicine manufacturers are now targeting India for their supply of tiger bones. Poaching of tigers for the traditional Chinese medicine industry started in northern India in the mid 1980’s
The illegal trade is now widespread and in the hands of ruthless, sophisticated operators, some of whom have top level patronage. There is also evidence that profits from the wildlife trade are increasingly being used to fund armed insurgency in north-east and north-west India. A tiger can be killed for as little as just over a dollar for the cost of poison, or $9 for a steel trap. Much of the tiger poaching is done by tribals who know their forests well. They are usually paid a meagre amount (in a case near Kanha Tiger Reserve, in May 1994, a trader paid four poachers $15 each for killing a tiger), their hunting talents and knowledge exploited by greedy traders. It is these traders and the middlemen who make substantial profits from the illegal trade in tiger parts.