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Undercover Investigation: Illegal Sales of Endangered Species Up in New York, Down in San Francisco

NY City Council Today Proposes Law to Crack Down on Sales

New York -- An undercover survey of traditional Chinese medicine shops in New York City and San Francisco found illegal products widely available made from endangered species, including tigers, rhinos, leopards and musk deer.

TRAFFIC, the world's leading wildlife trade monitoring network, found that most of the 60 stores visited offered at least one product containing an endangered species. The availability of tiger and rhino products, the focus of much legal and conservation attention in recent years, has decreased significantly in San Francisco since a similar survey in 1997, but availability remains high in New York City.

Armed with TRAFFIC's findings, four members of the New York City Council today announced that they will introduce legislation to make the sale of endangered species a violation of city law.

"Our findings indicate that illegal wildlife sales remain a serious problem in New York City," said Craig Hoover of TRAFFIC, a joint program of World Wildlife Fund and IUCN -- The World Conservation Union. "The results were encouraging, though, because they show that outreach to traditional medicine users, like weve done in San Francisco in the past few years, can reduce demand."

Hoover and members of the traditional Chinese medicine industry joined members of the New York City Council at a New York City Hall news conference today to announce TRAFFIC's findings and the legislation.

Demand for their parts for traditional Chinese medicines has helped drive tigers and rhinos close to extinction worldwide. Tiger bone is used to treat arthritis and muscular atrophy; rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicines for centuries to treat fevers, convulsions and delirium.

The TRAFFIC investigation, begun last year with undercover visits to San Francisco and New York Chinatown shops, was a follow-up to a similar survey in 1997. It was designed to gauge changes since the first TRAFFIC survey led to the enactment of the federal Rhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act in 1998. After that first survey, the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) launched a public education campaign in San Francisco with WWF that has received widespread support from the Chinese community.

In San Francisco, that public education effort and enforcement of the federal law appear to have had an effect. But as tiger bone products have become scarce, there has been a troubling increase in products containing leopard bone.

"It's clear from TRAFFIC's findings that the most effective strategy is to bolster law enforcement by engaging leadership within the traditional medicine community," said Ginette Hemley, vice president for species conservation at WWF. "We are now going to extend to New York our effective public awareness campaign in San Francisco, again in collaboration with the ACTCM. And we're going to redouble our efforts to reduce demand for all endangered species."

Among TRAFFIC's findings, detailed in the report released today, "A Tale of Two Cities":

  • Tiger bone. In 1997, 42 percent of San Francisco shops surveyed sold products claiming to contain tiger bone. In 2003, 3 percent did.
    -In 1997, 83 percent of New York City shops surveyed sold products claiming to contain tiger bone. In 2003, 41 percent did.
  • Rhino horn. In 1997, 5 percent of San Francisco shops surveyed sold products claiming to contain rhino horn. In 2003, no shops did.
    -In 1997, 8 percent of New York City shops surveyed sold products claiming to contain rhino horn. In 2003, 7 percent did.
  • Leopard bone. In 1997, 5 percent of San Francisco shops surveyed sold products claiming to contain leopard bone. In 2003, 27 percent did.
    -In 1997, 17 percent of New York City shops surveyed sold products claiming to contain leopard bone. In 2003, 63 percent did.

Trade in leopards, rhinos and tigers is illegal under both international treaty and the Endangered Species Act. TRAFFIC also surveyed shops for musk deer and bear bile products, whose sales are sometimes illegal, depending on the species involved or country of origin. Both products were widely available.

There are numerous herbal alternatives to the use of wildlife in traditional Chinese medicine; promoting these alternatives has been a focus of WWF and ACTCM's outreach in San Francisco. TRAFFIC and WWF protect endangered species in the wild with anti-poaching patrols, support to law enforcement and monitoring of international trade. WWF also addresses threats to tigers, rhinos, leopards and other endangered species through habitat protection in more than 100 countries around the world.