On February 7, a group of Tibetans from Rebgong in the eastern Tibetan area of Amdo (Qinghai) burned pelts of otter, leopard, tiger and fox, and Radio Free Asia reported today that a man burnt his wildlife skin chuba (Tibetan robe) in Lhasa on February 2. According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, in the past few weeks in Lithang (Chinese: Litang), Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Kham), Tibetans did not wear animal skins at several local festivals, and prices for wildlife skins have apparently since dropped in the area. The burning of the skins follows statements made by the Dalai Lama at the Kalachakra ceremony in south India last month, emphasizing environmental and wildlife protection and calling upon Tibetans from Tibet not to wear illegal animal furs and skins.
This new trend follows increasing concern among environmentalists against the illegal wildlife trade between India and Tibet and the lack of enforcement from the authorities in preventing wild animal pelts being sold in Tibetan areas.
Reports from Tibet indicate that Tseten Gyal, a Tibetan reportedly involved in the initiatives in Rebgong, Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, has been questioned by security personnel in the area. Tibetans taking part in the burning of skins have apparently argued that not only is the wearing of skins and furs against Buddhism, but it is also detrimental to the Tibetan economy, because of the high prices Tibetans pay to traders for the illegal skins. The Tibetans in Rebgong are reportedly planning a mass burning of wild animal skins in a few days time. China, which participates in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), has spoken publicly about its concern regarding the extent of the illegal wildlife trade.
Images published on a Chinese-language website here depict animal skins being prepared for burning and Tibetans donating money to show their support. According to the website, the money will be used for holding prayers for the animals who were killed.
The actions in Tibet follow concern expressed by the Dalai Lama and Tibetan and Indian environmentalists about the illegal wildlife trade. A hard-hitting report released in August 2005 by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), concluded that the new and burgeoning markets for Indian tiger, leopard and otter skins are in Tibetan areas of the PRC in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu, where they are coveted adornments for Tibetan chubas. Environmentalists have showed that it is the trade in animal skins that is driving the poaching of tigers, leopards and other big cats in India, as well as the demand for tiger bones and other body parts valued in traditional Chinese medicine. 'So great is the demand that the killings in India, and the illegal trade, are now spiraling out of control,' said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, who led a research trip to Tibet to investigate the trade. 'To our great distress, [in Tibet] we found tiger and leopard skins practically everywhere we went, and the dealers repeatedly and categorically told us that the skins had come from India.' (Biblio, India: November-December 2005).
In recent years the Dalai Lama has frequently spoken about the importance of wildlife conservation and in April last year launched a campaign by Care for the Wild International and the Wildlife Trust of India to combat the illegal wildlife trade along Tibet's border with India and Nepal. But he gave a particularly strong message direct to Tibetans from Tibet during the Kalachakra religious ceremony at Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh, in January. On the final day of the empowerment, he told Tibetans from Tibet and exile communities: