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Herding big cats

Tiger farming advocates say that legally selling body parts of the big cat could thwart the poachers. But a new report puts these claims to the test – and finds dangerous flaws in the economic arguments. Jan McGirk reports.

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Farming tigers in order to save them may turn out to be the equivalent of herding cats: an impossible undertaking with too many variables for sustained success. Yet this practice, which converts solitary predators into livestock for Chinese consumers, has been hailed as a pragmatic strategy for bringing the endangered tiger (panthera tigris) back from the brink of extinction. Wild tigers are increasingly scarce, and their population has declined sharply from an estimated 100,000 in 1900 to under 3,000 today.

At the Global Tiger Conservation Strategy Workshop in Nepal, scheduled for 26 to 30 October, 2009, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) will present a new report which challenges some of the supply-side economics arguments put forth by tiger farm proponents.

Advocates of tiger farming, such as economist Barun Mitra, of New Delhi’s Liberty Institute, have argued for years that plentiful stocks of tiger parts for sale in a free market would thwart poachers and crossborder profiteering. They maintain that it is a counter-intuitive way to safeguard the dwindling number of wild tigers that have evaded dynamite, snares and poison to survive in the swamps and forests of Asia and Siberia. Two subspecies, the Caspian and Balinese tigers, already have been wiped out.

Some Chinese officials have actively promoted tiger farms since the 1980s, when trade in body parts for traditional medicine was allowed, and Beijing now seems unwilling to phase them out, despite calls to do so by the World Bank and the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Irregularities and inbreeding at several commercial tiger farms in Vietnam and Thailand – tourist attractions where tiger cubs are bred intensively and routinely suckled on sows – have added to the controversy over the risks of further commodifying the tiger. Bones reportedly sell for US$800 to $1,200 per kilogram on the retail black market. An adult tiger can supply five to 10 kilograms of dried bone, much more easily smuggled than its distinctive skin.

One Pacific Rim economist who has analysed the tiger trade told chinadialogue that some of the bio-economical models put forth to support tiger farming are “not only flawed scientifically, but are rigged to yield the desired results.” He added, “Tiger bone is a classic high-value, low-volume product and poaching it will always be cheaper than years of feeding a growing carnivore.” The cited statistics vary, but poaching a wild tiger costs around US$20, compared to $4,000 to raise a cub to maturity. In either case, he pointed out,“potential profits are absolutely massive, especially as new commodities are created and marketed. Take tiger bone wine. It can be diluted almost infinitely.”

When the Chinese State Forestry Administration, which oversees the country’s wildlife, quietly approved domestic trade in “lawfully-sourced tiger and leopard skins and their products” back in December 2007, conservationists grew alarmed. The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, recently warned that such vague wording on an official document would be pounced upon as a loophole by Chinese tiger farmers.

Xu Hongfa, the director of the Shanghai Wildlife Forensic Laboratory who also coordinates TRAFFIC’s China programmes, told the London Times: “I think these words could be used as a cover by tiger farmers to make tiger bone wine and they would try to argue that it doesn’t just refer to skins.”

Tiger bones steeped in vats of rice wine for up to nine years yield a potent pep tonic, considered a rare and prestigious gift amongst the Chinese elite. It’s viewed as a delicacy comparable to shark fin soup. Lavish banquet toasts are made with this blackmarket brew, which can be obtained inside China, although penalties for selling it are severe. Customers reportedly pay up to US$180 per half litre.

Meanwhile, farmers from Guilin to Heilongjiang provinces have stockpiled the frozen carcasses of captive tigers, either killed in fights or put down when they grew too large to control, and are eager to recoup their investment.

Compared with the 10,000 captive tigers living in zoos or private facilities in the US, and at least 5,000 “mild tigers” bred at a dozen Chinese farms, the 40 or so wild tigers remaining inside China are vastly outnumbered and likely to vanish if the demand for tiger products is stimulated. Fewer than 3,000 breeding adult tigers are left in the wild anywhere in the world, and their present habitat is only 7% of the former range, which used to extend from south India to the Russian far east and from Sumatra to northern Myanmar (Burma). The big cats are most plentiful in India, where this year’s tiger census already is underway.

India has directly challenged Chinese authorities over the ramifications of easing any restrictions on tiger trade, because the countries signed a bilateral protocol on tigers back in 1995. Keshav Varma, leader of the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative, announced at the 58th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Standing Committee (CITES): “Having carefully weighed the economics argument, we urge the CITES community to uphold the ban on wild tiger products and for all countries to continue to ban the domestic trade of wild tigers."

Western press accounts of tiger penis aphrodisiacs or tiger brain balm to cure acne annoy practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Most spurn such folk potions, which are based on superstition, not medical theory. Even though some 100 million Chinese sufferers of arthritis might be prescribed tiger bone derivatives to ease joint inflammation if it were legal, herbal substitutions now are standard, and medical textbooks have been purged of venerable tiger-based remedies.

“I can say for sure that no one in the TCM community wants to reopen the tiger trade,” said Lixin Huang, president of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco.“There is zero demand. This tiger farming proposal is a way to make money, not to treat the sick. It confuses the public. Any use will create a threat to wild tigers. How do we monitor it to control poaching, selling and production?”

Before Chinese farmers harvest their caged tigers’ striped pelts or grind their bones for traditional medicines which have been outlawed for the past 16 years, a rethink might be in order.

Alasdair Cameron, of the EIA, contends that unleashing free market folly and legalising the trade in parts from captive bred tigers will have “disastrous consequences for the wild tiger.” He argues that a parallel trade in premium wild tiger products is bound to emerge once farmed tiger items hit the market, and that there is little incentive for tiger breeders to report inventory discrepancies, to help screen out wild tiger products or enforce the ban against their use. In fact, criminals will be tempted to process any contraband wild tiger parts through newly lawful channels.

The EIA review highlights flawed assumptions in some of the recent economic studies, noting a poor understanding of tiger biology and clandestine smuggling networks, as well as oversimplified supply and demand models. Fuzzy mathematical models that suggest tiger farming is a viable way to promote conservation have increasingly come under fire. Framing fearful symmetry in an equation is no doddle.

Economist G Cornelis van Kooten, of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, admits that he devised formulas “in spite of a paucity of data” and that factoring in a stigma effect was an afterthought, and “no empirical evidence for it exists.” Currently he’s refining his paper. “Markets where corruption is rife are tough to figure out,” he said. “Ethically I am opposed to tiger farms, just as I am to large-scale pork production. But if society permits the latter, how can you castigate the Chinese and stop tiger farming? Allowing trade might not be a disaster. Habitat destruction and lost prey is the real threat to tigers.”

The EIA report urges a cautious approach to speculative economic models and a commitment to reduce demand for tiger parts rather than boost a trade that has been in decline since 1993. It calls for tiger farms that intensively breed big cats to consolidate, declare and destroy all tiger parts , in accordance with past decisions taken by CITES. And, while several thousand wild tigers still stalk the night forests, the EIA recommends that wildlife activists draw attention to their successes and continue to raise awareness of the tigers’ plight.


Jan McGirk is a former correspondent for the Independent, who has reported on environmental issues and disasters in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.


Homepage image from Big Cat Rescue

 

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

养老虎与养猪不一样

在非法猎杀下,加上生存环境的缩小,野生虎变得越来越少。如果再这样下去,“山林之王”很可能与长江里的白鳍豚一样,都逃不过灭绝的命运。
但是,像养猪一样养老虎,能起到保护野生虎的效果吗?
老虎之所以被猎杀,是人们受到市场需求的驱使。有些人坚信虎骨能治病,有些人对老虎的皮毛趋之若鹜。如果允许老虎养殖,这些人的要求能得到实现,但这并必然导致猎杀野生虎活动的终止。对于那些不法分子来说,直接猎杀要比养殖省事得多、利润更高。

Farming tigers is totally different from farming pigs

Under the threat of illegal hunting and the shrinking of living environment, the number of wild tigers has greatly decreased. If we let it be, the so called "king of the forest" would not escape the same fate of extinction that the white-fin dolphin in Yangtze River had. However, can raising tigers in the way of raising pigs makes any effect in protecting the wild life? The increasing demand drives the hunting of tigers. Some believe that the bones of tiger cure disease, others seek for the skin and fur. To satisfy the demand by legalize tiger farming,hunting wild tigers would cease. For those outlaws, hunting is much easier and more profitable.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

有人用过吗?

虎骨真的能治病吗?有没有人用过相关的药,可否说一下亲身感受?
有人说只是心理安慰,也有人说疗效显著,真是令人非常困惑!

Has anybody tried it?

Do the bones of tigers really cure diseases? Can anybody who has tried it say anything about the experience? Somebody said that it is only for the sake of spiritual comfort, others say that it is really effectivene. I am really puzzled.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

我们的目的是缓解疼痛

在照顾老人的时候,我们最重要的目的是缓解慢性关节炎和风湿病给他们所带来的红肿和疼痛。中药对此有很好的疗效。一些TCM的医师告诉我说,用一种特定类型的鼹鼠骨代替中药也能取得同样的功效。而许多的草药又和老虎骨膏有着几乎相同的功效,这样也就避免了通过捕杀食物链中的高级动物而带来的自然的不平衡。一项被中国西北生物研究所和中国社科院所支持并经过唐古拉制药公司十年的调查显示,“在风湿病的治疗过程中,鼹鼠骨可以完全的取代老虎骨。虽然鼹鼠骨是小了点,但它的功效却是很明显的高于老虎骨的.....”因此我们何不通过饲养这些奇异的老鼠来代替“大猫”呢?

Easing pain is the motivation

Easing the pain and inflammation of chronic arthritis and rheumatism is a major motivation in treating an ageing population. Chinese medicine can work very well. Several TCM practitioners told me that by substituting the bones of one type of mole rat, the same efficacy has been achieved. A number of herbal remedies work nearly as well as tiger bone plasters-- without throwing the forests out of balance by eliminating the top of the food chain.
Tanggula Pharmaceutical Company,
supported by China’s Northwest Institute of Biology and the Chinese Academy of
Sciences, published results of 10 years of research showing that sailong (mole rat) bone
“can completely substitute tiger bone for the effective treatment of rheumatism. Although
sailong bone is smaller than tiger bone... its strength is obviously higher than tiger.” So why not breed these exotic rats instead of the big cats?

--Jan McGirk

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

出口的虎骨

啊哈,这样就能解释得通了。一位中国会议代表在加德满都老虎会议上的非正式发言中引述一份尼泊尔的研究,中国的养殖户向60个国家出口虎骨。请见http://tiny.cc/uy5fV。

这难道不是违法的吗???孟加拉国,不丹,柬埔寨,中国,印度,印度尼西亚,老挝,缅甸,尼泊尔,俄罗斯,泰国和越南等13个国家还有野生虎。为什么还有那么多国家要把它们当作食物?可耻的行为。-Nok

本评论由Li Huan翻译

Bones for export

Aha! This explains it. A Chinese delegate at the Kathmandu tiger conference said, off the record, that Chinese farms export tiger bones to sixty countries, according to a report in Republic Nepal. See http://tiny.cc/uy5fV
Isn't this illegal??? Thirteen countries still have wild tigers, in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. Why do so many more nations want to devour them? Disgraceful behaviour.
-Nok