China has for the first time admitted that it permits trade in skins from captive tigers, participants and officials at a meeting of an international convention to protect endangered species have said.
They say Chinese authorities had never before reported this.
“We don’t not ban trade in tiger skins but we do ban trade in tiger bones,” a participant at the meeting said.
Between 5,000 and 6,000 tigers are believed to be in captivity in China.
The admission was made by a member of the Chinese delegation at a Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting in Geneva.
Chinese officials have not responded to a BBC request as to the details of the statement.
Officials say a major report - with graphic details on how the Chinese government allows commercial trade in skins from captive tigers - was presented during the meeting.
While China has been a major market for tiger parts, wildlife experts say that Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia are also emerging as ‘tiger farming’ countries
Wildlife experts believe “tiger farming” in China has hugely fuelled demand for poaching and trafficking of the endangered species from elsewhere.
They say that the Chinese admission about the tiger skin trade will help pile pressure on the government to eradicate the practice.
Reports also say that facilities where captive tigers are held are “leaking tiger parts and live animals” for illegal international trade.
“The report presented in the meeting created a situation that required China to respond,” said one participant, who did not want to be named.
“Basically when the meeting focused on the findings of this report, the Chinese delegate intervened and it was then when this admission came.
“It was the first time they admitted officially that this trade exists in China.”
It is estimated that about 1,600 tigers - in captivity and in the wild - have been traded globally since 2000.
Reports say that in the past two years, there have been seizures of nearly 90 tigers likely to have been sourced from, or trafficked though, captive facilities across South East Asia and China.
While China has been a major market for tiger parts, wildlife experts say that Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia are also emerging as “tiger farming” countries.
Skins of tigers, leopards and snow leopards are valued among the political, military and business elite as luxury home decor in China.
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