A Holy Call to Spare the Tiger

ByABC News
March 7, 2006, 9:32 AM

March 7, 2006 — -- Wildlife groups in India are cautiously delighted at Tibetans' enthusiastic response to the Dalai Lama's appeal to stop buying and wearing animal skins in his homeland.

The appeal comes on the heels of a sudden upsurge in the trade of animal skins in Tibet.

"I was stunned to see the rampant use of animal skins by the Tibetans," said New Delhi-based conservationist Belinda Wright, who recently traveled to Tibet's capital, Lhasa.

"They were wearing a traditional costume called the 'chuba' made with tiger, leopard and otter skin," she said. During her trip, she found the skins openly sold on the streets.

Wright and representatives of other wildlife preservation groups then visited the Dalai Lama at his headquarters in Dharamsala at the foothills of the Indian Himalayas and showed him their video footage.

He was appalled to see Tibetans flaunting animal skins when India's tiger population is dwindling to dangerously low levels.

A census in 2002 in India counted 3,642 tigers, but a more recent report said that the tiger population had dropped to just 1,500. This is despite India having 28 special tiger reserves specifically intended to protect the animal.

The Dalai Lama made his appeal in January at Amravati in western India during a special Buddhist prayer -- the Kala Chakra -- that happens only once every 10 years.

Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans from all over the world attended and heard the Dalai Lama say that he was "ashamed" to see Tibetans decorating themselves with skins and furs.

After hearing him denounce the custom, many Tibetans carried the message back to their homeland. All over Tibet, there have been reports of people burning wild animal skins to show their disapproval. If the reports are true, it marks a radical change in attitude.

In recent years, with more disposable income available to them, Tibetans have been wearing animal skins as a status symbol to demonstrate their prosperity.

They are buying tiger skin clothing as expensive gifts for weddings or for their children.