Despite there being only 3,500 tigers left in the wild, China’s tiger farms and zoos house around 5,000 of the endangered big cats. According to the WWF there are only 45 wild tigers estimated to be living in China.
Around ten years ago, shocking reports surfaced regarding the number of pet tigers in the US state of Texas. Some estimates put that number at around 2,000. As absurd and cruel as that may be, at least the tigers in Texas are not being farmed for their parts.
A new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) a UK-based NGO, has uncovered the existence of a legal Chinese domestic market in tiger skins, which in turn fuels big cat poaching as a cheaper, alternative source. Bones from farmed tigers are also being used in the manufacture of “real tiger wine”, considered a luxury health tonic, which of course has no actual health benefits.
China has promised to double the number of wild tigers by 2022 and has signed the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which bans the international trade in tiger parts and their derivatives. At international meetings Chinese officials have expressed their commitment to end the illegal trade in tiger parts, but what are they doing? How does issuing permits for farming tigers in order to sell their skins as rugs and use their bones in wine to be sold in nightclubs and hospitals fit into that? The farming of tigers for their skins may be legal in China (the use of tiger bone for medicinal purposes was banned in 1993), but it’s plainly counterproductive.
Debbie Banks, Head of EIA’s Tiger Campaign, is quoted in a press release:
The stark contradiction between China’s international posture supporting efforts to save the wild tiger and its inward-facing domestic policies which stimulate demand and ultimately drive the poaching of wild tigers represents one of the biggest cons ever perpetrated in the history of tiger conservation. Pro-tiger trade policies are championed by only a handful of officials in a couple of Government departments and it behooves China to vigorously address and terminate this intolerable disconnect between words and deeds which so undermines international efforts to save the tiger.
The entire report, entitled, “Hidden in Plain Sight: China’s Clandestine Tiger Trade” is available here in PDF format.
Listen to Debbie Bank’s interview with Radio Australia here and view the accompanying video below.