A few days ago I ranted a bit about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and how the some of the most expensive “cures” such as tiger penis, bear bile and rhino horn are not only illegal and immoral, but also utterly ineffective.

I’ll come clean and admit that I’m no doctor, of TCM or mainstream medicine or homeopathy or library science or anything else. Still, I’d bet my own nose that rhino horn doesn’t cure cancer, my gall bladder that bear bile is “snake oil” and my own… well, let’s just say I’m sure tiger penises are impotent. As medicine, that is. I’m pretty sure they’re generally pretty good for making tiger cubs, though we shouldn’t sell short the role the tiger moms play, Asian or otherwise.

Tiger at wildlife farm, Thailand, pic: Reza Ghafari (Flickr CC)

Vietnam, recently blasted in a WWF report for being the top destination for illegal rhino horns from South Africa, has also recently been in the news for its tiger farms. Conservationists claim that Vietnam’s 11 registered tiger farms are in fact fronts for the trade in illegal tiger parts used for medicine, rather than for “future reintroduction” into the wild as the Vietnamese government claimed in a 2009 report.

From the Associated Press:

The global population of wild tigers has dropped precipitously over the last century, from about 100,000 to fewer than 3,500. According to the wildlife advocacy group TRAFFIC, at least 200 tiger carcasses were seized from the illegal trade worldwide last year. Vietnam is one of 13 countries with wild tigers, but they number less than 50 in Vietnamese territory, according to government figures.

The above quoted report describes a Vietnamese tiger farm as a rotten, cramped and wholly unsuitable place for a bunch of tigers to live.

Meanwhile, China hasn’t been exactly supportive in reducing the international trade in tiger parts. At the CITIES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, delegates from the UK and India, along with other nations, called on China to ban tiger farms.

Most wild tigers live in India, which is also the country doing the most to protect them. China, on the other hand, is the largest market for illegal tiger parts, which also have a thriving trade in South Korea and Taiwan. According to India, the biggest threat to its wild tiger population are poachers who kill tigers so that their parts can be sold in the above countries.

wild tiger, Ranthambore National Park, India, pic: Tim Carter (Flickr CC)

From the Guardian:

China banned trade in tiger parts in 1993, but since then the country’s large-scale commercial breeding of tigers in captivity has boomed. There are now more than 5,000 tigers in around 20 farms run as tourist attractions by politically influential businessmen. There are also tiger farms in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

China responded by denying that farming tigers hurts wild populations.

Over in Thailand, wildlife authorities have stated that they plan to reduce the number of tigers born in private zoos in order to cut down on the illegal wildlife trade.

Read more about that in the Bangkok Post.