STRIPES ON SALE
An American TV show backs commercial breeding of tigers. But farming
the big cat, writes Jay Mazoomdaar, cannot save the species in the
The cat is slowly coming out of the bag. For long, the world suspected
tacit official patronage of illegal tiger farms in China even after
Beijing was forced to ban trade in tiger parts in 1993. Then, before
the last meeting of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES) in 2008, Chinese officials unsuccessfully
argued how the ban had cost their economy $4 billion and that
captive-bred tigers could sustain the trade and also replenish the
The farming lobby claims that providing a low-priced supply of tiger
parts to customers will reduce the profit margins of poachers, making
killing of wild tigers unviable. So their solution for saving tigers
from extinction is to breed them commercially in farms as we currently
breed chicken or cattle. This concept has many takers in the US, the
only country with a pet tiger population larger than China’s. But this
lobby also needs some support in India, the country with more than
half of the world’s remaining wild tigers, and the campaign is gaining
First it was Barun Mitra, head of Liberty Institute who “visited China
as a guest of the government to learn about tiger conservation”. Then
it was Jaithirth Rao, India’s leading
Stossel, America’s star consumer reporter who anchors the highly
popular 20/20 show. Between them, they have occupied prime news space
on some top media organisations — New York Times, India Today, The
Indian Express, Hindustan Times and, of course, ABC News.
But for all that, sample this. To name only two reporters, Danny
Penman (Daily Mail) and Simon Parry (PostMagazine) documented last
year how the Xiongsen Park in Guilin, China, was farming tigers in
hundreds — each squeezed in like a battery hen — so that they could be
eaten or turned into wine.
While Penman mentioned 140 tigers in the freezer to be served up on a
menu as strips of stir-fried tiger with ginger and vegetables or tiger
soup or spicy red curry made with tender tiger strips, Parry recalls
the park’s sales manager Xhao Runghui ruing how he could not advertise
tiger wine in Beijing because the Olympics were coming up.
However gruesome the idea of consuming tiger meat or wine may sound,
it is not the reason why tiger farming is a remarkably dumb idea.
Ethics or values aside, tiger farming simply does not make any
economic or ecological sense.
First, farming only makes poaching more rewarding. Anyone who has an
idea of a tiger’s daily consumption would know how much it costs to
rear a tiger in captivity before it becomes “marketable”. If it must
bring a reasonable margin in the market, it cannot be low-priced. Wild
tigers virtually come for free and mean “total profit” to poachers. So
in an open market, a poacher’s incentives would actually be greater as
there would be no way to distinguish the bones of ‘farmed’ tigers from
those of wild tigers.
Second, the argument that tigers — like chicken or sheep — will never
go extinct if we farm them for consumption is misleading. Conservation
is not just about saving tigers from going extinct but saving the
tigers in the wild. Otherwise, we already have enough tigers in the
zoos to secure live specimens for many generations to come.
The challenge before us is to save the tiger in the wild, so that with
the tiger flourishing at the top of the food chain, everything down
the pyramid flourishes. If the pyramid is alive, so will be the
forests around it and the water systems that are sustained by such
The farming lobby often cites the example of crocodiles having become
successful commercial animals with an estimated two million harvested
each year in Australia, South Africa and the US. But crocodiles are
found in 91 countries and there are 23 surviving species. For each
tiger in the wild, there were always hundreds of crocodiles. However,
commercial success cannot save an endangered species in the wild. The
Chinese themselves could do precious little about their highly
endangered alligators. Despite repeated attempts at captive breeding
and release since 1979, to quote Xinhua, there are just about 150
Chinese alligators left in the wild.
And, finally, what about China’s own tiger experience? Their tiger
farms have been trading legally for years (with implicit official
support since 1993). Today, China has thousands of tigers in cages but
less than 50 survive poaching in the wild.
Unfortunately, reintroduction of captive-bred or farmed tigers in the
wild has never succeeded. No wonder even the Chinese plan to
reintroduce tigers bred in a South African zoo in its forests is yet
to take off.
So then, how do we save the tiger? Well, to borrow a phrase from the
farming lobby, by generating strong incentives. But for that we need
not domesticate and kill tigers. We have to integrate efficient
protection and practical management plans with popular participation.
As a rule, we have to involve the locals — not only for menial jobs —
but also in protection work and responsible tourism.
Protected well, our wilderness will not only ensure our food and water
security but also sustain a multi-billion dollar tourism industry. If
alive in the wild, the tiger will remain the ultimate mascot of that
— The writer is an independent journalist and filmmaker.
+91 98112 98759
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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