- Many of these tigers in the farms are kept in horrific conditions
- At many facilities in China, visitors can pay to get close to tigers, by taking bus “safaris” through enclosures
- Many captive tigers exhibit symptoms of severe mental and physical distress
China, June 09, 2017: In 1986, in a thickly forested mountain valley in north-east China, eight tigers emerged from transport containers to find themselves in new and unfamiliar territory. Born in American zoos, these tigers had been shipped to China on the understanding that they would form the basis of a new captive breeding programme, to benefit the conservation of the species.
Instead, they were to become the founding population of China’s first commercial tiger farm. They had been brought together by the Ministry of Forestry at a fur farm in Heilongjiang Province to establish the Hengdaohezi Breeding Centre, a government-funded operation to breed tigers for profit, primarily to supply bones for medicinal use. The move marked the beginning of a cruel chapter in the history of their species, which was to have a devastating impact on tigers across the world.
By the 1980s, after decades of systematic persecution, wild tigers were almost extinct in China. With this decline, so too the supply of wild tiger body parts within China for use in traditional medicines had dried up. As continued demand in China fuelled a poaching epidemic across other tiger range countries, government and private profiteers seized upon a business opportunity: Large-scale breeding of tigers in captive facilities to supply body parts to the traditional medicine industry. From the outset, the tigers in China’s tiger farms were commodities, to be slaughtered and sold off for profit.
Fast-forward three decades. There are now 5,000-6,000 tigers kept in more than 200 facilities across China. Among these are huge-scale farming operations, including the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park, and Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain Village in Guangxi each of which now hold more than 1,000 tigers.
Many of these tigers are kept in horrific conditions, in cramped concrete enclosures without any kind of mental stimulation. Many captive tigers exhibit symptoms of severe mental and physical distress, and genetic deformities suggest serious in-breeding.
There are fewer than 4,000 wild tigers left on Earth — a decline of 96 per cent since the start of the 20th century. The main reason for this decline is poaching to feed Chinese demand for their skins, bones and other body parts.
Elsewhere in Asia, tigers have followed a similar trajectory. Populations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are now functionally extinct, with no evidence of breeding. While tiger populations are stable or increasing in some other countries, such as India, the poaching of wild tigers to feed Chinese demand for their body parts continues at alarming rates.
Clearly, an explosion in the number of captive tigers has done nothing to stop the killing of wild tigers. Instead, tiger farming has sustained and stimulated demand for tiger parts, driving devastating poaching and hastening their march to extinction.
China’s tiger farms make frequent appearances on social media and in the news. Just this month, the announcement of tiger births at Hengdaohezi Breeding Centre was widely shared, accompanied by beguiling images of the young animals.
At many facilities in China, visitors can pay to get close to tigers, by taking bus “safaris” through enclosures, or posing for selfies with tiger cubs or sedated adults. Videos from Harbin Tiger Park show tigers living in unnatural “herds”. Visitors can pay to feed the animals, and can witness live animals being killed and devoured by as many as 20 tigers at once. There is nothing natural about such behaviour.
Wild tigers are solitary creatures that depend on their hunting skills to survive. While these captive tigers may share the inherent ability to kill as their wild brethren, they have not learned the skills of what to kill. Growing up around people, they lose their fear of humans. They would pose a serious danger to local communities if released, and would be condemned to a life of persecution.
Many facilities that keep captive tigers in China have been exposed trading products made from tiger parts. The Harbin Siberian Tiger Park and Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Village have both been documented on multiple occasions trading “wine” made by soaking tiger bones in alcohol.
The Government of China is apparently complicit in perpetuating tiger trade. Despite a 1993 directive, which prohibits all trade in tiger bone and its use in medicine, tiger bone wine appears to be produced and marketed with express government authorisation under a 2005 Notification. In 2013, the Environmental Investigation Agency reported on the commercial sale of luxury rugs made from the skins of captive-bred tigers, which were being offered for sale with permits issued by the State Forestry Administration.
Multiple real-world examples have shown that in practice, legal trade in threatened species does not take pressure off wild populations. Conversely, legal trade stimulates demand by legitimising the product in the eye of the consumer; complicates law enforcement as products from wild and captive animals are often indistinguishable; and presents opportunities for traders to launder illegal items from poached animals into the legal trade.
The year 2016 saw more tigers poached in India than any year since 2001. The world’s last remaining wild tiger populations are paying the ultimate price to feed demand that is stimulated by Chinese policy. They simply cannot withstand this level of killing.
It’s clear that there is growing support for ending tiger farming in China. A proposal was put forward at this year’s CPPCC plenary session to end tiger trade and phase out tiger farms, and new government plans to establish a huge reserve in north-east China for tigers and leopards are a positive step. But until commercial breeding and trade of tigers and their parts are phased out, this policy will continue to undermine any other attempts to save China’s tigers. (IANS)
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