From the Director of the Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking (CATT):
August 18, 2006
Dear CATT Subscriber,
Tiger-farming advocates are turning up the heat on their campaign to see tigers farmed like cows and pigs. More than a few of you saw evidence of this on August 15, when The New York Times ran a prominent opinion piece entitled “Sell the Tiger to Save It” by Indian pundit Barun Mitra.
The placement of this op-ed, with its dramatic illustration, in the U.S. newspaper of record was an undeniable coup for the farming lobby, which hosted Mitra’s recent VIP tour of Chinese tiger farms. Even some of those who care deeply about wild tigers thought they may have heard a ring of reason in Mitra’s arguments. However, things are rarely as simple as they are portrayed by pundits.
Mitra argues that, because tigers breed like cats and sell — in the form of bones, skin, claws and teeth — for as much as $40,000, tiger farms can help the tiger “pay for its own survival” and “break the poverty cycle” of the tiger’s human neighbors, while eliminating “incentives for poachers.” Sadly, for wild tigers, he is dead wrong.
The only way in which Mitra’s scenario will alleviate poverty in the tiger’s domain is to stimulate poaching. Given that it can cost a poacher in India as little as one U.S. dollar to kill a tiger, his profit margin will be 2,000 percent even if he sells his dead tiger for a mere $2,000.
Meanwhile, farmed tigers, which eat meat daily to maturity, will cost thousands of dollars to produce. A good return on investment will require a selling price of at least $40,000.
If you are a user of tiger bone to make wine for arthritis, whose tiger will you buy in this time when the bones of wild tigers cannot be distinguished from those of farmed tigers? The wild one, which is better according to the tenets of traditional Chinese medicine and costs a small fraction of the farmed variety? Or the inferior farmed tiger at 20 times the price?
So, yes, perhaps poverty will be alleviated for some poachers — those lucky enough to bag one of the last 4,000 to 5,000 tigers left in the wild. After those are gone, which will be a relatively short time, the fat-cat tiger farmers can keep all the profits to themselves.
Mitra ends by saying that “if China decides to unleash the tiger’s commercial potential, the king of the forest might be more secure in his domain.” He draws a parallel between wild tigers and domesticated cows, buffalo, goats and sheep. “These are among the most exploited animals, yet they are not in danger of dying out.”
Not on farms anyway. And, yes, the world can certainly have all the farmed tigers it wants. Tigers on feed lots. Tigers bred and re-bred so quickly that their offspring must suckle on pigs and dogs. But what about wild tigers — the tigers who thrive and multiply in healthy forests filled with a full complement of other wild species to support a robust, sustainable Earth?
The simplest and most viable solution is to leave wild tigers alone in the wild and better enforce the long-standing ban on trade in tiger parts. Wild tigers will do the rest. The only humans who will lose out will be a handful of already-wealthy tiger farmers.
Thank you for your interest in saving wild tigers,
Director – Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking (CATT): An organized response to an organized crime