BEIJING China will inevitably lift its ban on the trade of tiger bones and body parts, a wildlife official told state media, saying groups seeking to profit from the government's captive-bred tigers were too strong to resist.
China was rebuked last week at a U.N. wildlife conference after it said it planned to lift a domestic ban that has been in place since 1993 if a scientific review proved it would reduce poaching and help stocks of wild tigers worldwide.
"The ban is in place," Wang Wei, wildlife deputy director at the State Forestry Administration told Tuesday's China Daily.
"But it is open for review ... The ban won't be there forever, given the strong voices from tiger farmers, experts and society," Wang said.
"It will be a waste if the resources of dead tigers are not used in traditional medicine," he added.
Beijing has come under intense pressure from companies seeking to cash in on local demand for tiger bones and parts in traditional Chinese medicine. Tiger bones are used to treat everything from skin disease and convulsions to laziness, malaria and rheumatism.
The country only has about 30 tigers left in the wild but keeps about 5,000 in several commercial breeding farms around the country.
At a meeting in the Hague last week, John Sellar, senior enforcement officer at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), criticized China's intensive breeding programs as having "limited" potential for conservation.
A farm in the country's south also had openly flouted the tiger trade ban by serving tiger meat in its on-site restaurant, Sellar said.
Wang said Chinese research suggested the trade in captive-bred tigers, growing at about 1,000 every year, would not affect conservation efforts.
"Authorized breeding and trade might, in fact, benefit the survival of the tiger", Wang said, given that people "would not risk penalties to hunt in the wild."
But conservationists warn that any relaxation in the ban would result in a massive surge in demand for tiger parts and increased poaching of wild tigers.
There are believed to be only 5,000 to 7,000 tigers remaining in the wild.