Farm reopens China’s trade in tiger products

September 13, 2006

A tiger farm in China’s Guangxi Province claims it is selling tiger-bone wine with the government’s blessing and that profits already top US$10 million a year.

This news was reported in detail in a recent expose published in the popular China Youth Daily. If the reporting is based on fact, China has begun lifting its 13-year ban on trade in tiger products, or the farm is boastfully and blatantly breaking the law.

“We have 400 vats in this cellar, each containing a tiger carcass,” the manager of the wine-production facility within Guilin Xiong Sen Tiger and Bear Farm reportedly boasted as he lifted a tiger skeleton from an alcoholic brew. “Construction of another cellar is being completed, which will increase our production capacity.”

In 1993, China’s State Council issued a “notice” forbidding all trade in tiger bone and rhino horn. The legally-binding proclamation prohibited the sale, purchase and transport of tiger bone, rhino horn and products made from them. Existing products containing the forbidden ingredients were locked away under government seal, and China’s official pharmaceutical protocol for their use as medicine was canceled.

Recently, however, a flurry of reliable rumors has surfaced saying that China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) has taken steps to begin lifting the ban on trade in tiger bone from farms, permitting those with more than 500 captive-bred tigers to start limited legal sales of tiger bone directly to medicine manufacturers, who in turn can sell their products directly to hospitals.

One SFA official told Save The Tiger Fund that medicines containing tiger bone are essential in treating SARS. Representatives of the traditional Chinese medicine industry say this is ludicrous. While tiger bone has long been useful in treating arthritis and other rheumatic disorders, it is not essential for treating these or any other diseases because natural alternatives are plentiful and effective.

The SFA so far has refused to confirm whether they have authorized limited legal trade of any kind. However, tiger farmers and the SFA jointly hosted a small group of sympathetic foreigners for an all-expense-paid VIP tour of the farms earlier this year, asking them for their support of China’splan to farm tigers like cattle .

Furthermore, an official of the Guangxi Forestry Bureau confirmed to China Youth Daily that the SFA gave the Guilin tiger and bear farm nearly US$1 million to enhance tiger breeding efforts and build its brewery. According farm officials, the SFA also issued the facility – which, ironically, opened in 1993 – the only permit in the country to openly retail tiger bone wine.

The brewery manager is quoted as saying that some of his vats of tiger bone wine have been steeping for eight years. Wines sold on the premises range in price from US$41 a bottle to US$106, depending on vintage. At Nanning’s airport, the reporter found a bottle priced at $135.

The manager was adamant about his claim that his farm has government permission to sell tiger products. “Who would dare to sell tiger bone wine without permission from relevant authorities?” he is quoted as saying.

He implied that this major reversal of China’s national policy is being phased in quietly. “Because tiger trade is a sensitive issue internationally,” he said, “we will have to wait until after the 2008 Olympics to take the wine to the markets in Beijing and other cities.”

China Youth Daily has confirmed what conservation groups have been hearing – and fearing. Shortly after the three-part series was published, China’s new and improved wildlife trade control law came into effect. To honor the occasion, Conservation International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Save The Tiger Fund, TRAFFIC, Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wide Fund for Nature sent an open letter to China’s Premier Wen Jaibao praising the new law and also China’s long-standing ban on tiger trade.

“The recent proposal by China’s tiger farms to legalize trade in tiger parts and derivatives will jeopardize the great efforts that the Chinese government and the world have invested to save wild tigers,” the letter reads. It mentions the dangers of “laundering” the bones of wild tigers as bones from farmed tigers, the folly of reigniting China’s potentially huge appetite for tiger bone products and also the complications posed for law enforcement efforts to stop illegal tiger trade.

The letter goes on to gently imply how reopening tiger trade would fly in the face of the environmental theme of China’s upcoming Olympic Games. “We hope that China, in the spirit of its new… law and the upcoming 2008 Green Olympics, will discourage the consumption of endangered wildlife in general, reiterate its commitment to the 1993 ban of trade in all tiger derivatives from all sources, and thereby continue to play a responsible leadership role in protecting the world’s few remaining wild tigers.”

The intentions of China’s tiger farms are clear. Their advocates in the government are increasingly active in their support and now, it appears, are forging the way for tigers to be legally produced, rendered and sold like cattle. Tragically, wild tigers, which are dirt cheap to kill and far more valued as medicine, will be the first to be slaughtered.

Thank you for your interest in the survival of wild tigers,

Judy

Judy Mills
Director
Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking (CATT): An organized response to an organized crime

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