This is the 2nd in our series Tiger Tuesday leading up International Tiger Day on September 26th, 2010. There are approximately 3,200 tigers remaining in the wild.
Image © Wildlife Checkpoint Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand
Illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts is one of the main reasons the species is endangered. Tigers are used throughout Asia (most heavily in China) for traditional medicines or tonics including tiger bone wine and aphrodisiacs. Trade in tigers is prohibited by the Convention in Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES.
The illegal wildlife trade is a gruesome, multi-billion dollar business run by organized criminal syndicates. This year National Geographic published The Kingpin an exposé of the world's most notorious wildlife dealer. His future plans include farming captive tigers for parts.
Recent news items on the illegal tiger trade include the discovery, last month, of a tiger cub in a suitcase at a Thai airport. The cub was tranquilized and hidden among stuffed tiger toys (hmm...well if it worked for E.T...). Last week authorities uncovered a wildlife bone trade network in Vietnam, where an estimated 30 tigers remain in the wild.Tiger bones, sadly, were among the bones confiscated.
At tiger farms in China, like Xiongsen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village tigers jump through hoops, kill livestock, and crowd too many into a pen for human amusement before being made into the popular tiger bone wine- which can be purchased in the gift shop. According to this NY Times article the park also sold tiger steaks in their restaurant until 2 years ago.
Some suggest that such tiger farms- where tigers are bred to be used for their parts- similar to farming cattle- can fulfill the demand for products like tiger bone wine while leaving wild populations untouched. The suggestion is unnecessarily macabre, offering to sacrifice one life to save another.
Here I must quote from a great article by Elizabeth Stinson I stumbled across on the blog Genetics & Literature:
"Instead of exacerbating the destruction of an endangered species, people should be advocating to build the species back to a healthy level....what these tiger farms fail to see is that they are not solving the environmental problem of tiger extinction, they are allowing society to believe that this kind of solution is justifiable."
If trade in farmed tiger parts is legalized it will rekindle the demand which has diminished since China's 1993 ban on trade in tiger parts. Legalizing trade in farmed parts provides cover for trade in wild tiger parts as the two cannot easily be distinguished.
Infact, legalizing tiger farms would increase demand and could increase poaching pressure on wild populations. Poaching is less expensive than farming and poachers would be able to offer the "more potent" wild tiger parts for less.
The only way to conserve the tiger is to protect it's habitat, it's prey (which have been over hunted), and strengthen anti-poaching efforts. Farmed tigers would not be useful in reintroduction efforts, many of them suffer from years of inbreeding . Captive carnivores returned to the wild often lack fear of humans which could end up causing their own death or human casualties.
- Much of the above info was sourced from WWF's Tiger Facts and Fallacies