By J.A. Mills – Tigers are many people’s joy and woe. Beautiful, intelligent apex predators, their numbers in the wild have diminished to a few thousand, and the forces threatening them seem irredeemably entrenched. This book lays out in stunning, infuriating detail the shortcomings and compromises in international policies toward tigers by both governmental and non-governmental organizations, even presumed good guys like the World Wildlife Fund.
Mills’s arguments are well supported by many other organizations and investigations. The nub of the problem is this:
- Wildlife protection efforts focus on illegal trade, ignoring the legal Asian “tiger farms”
- “Tiger farms” provide a totally inappropriate environment (group cages) for solitary animals like tigers, and animals raised in them cannot survive, if released into the wild
- Proponents say tiger farms reduce pressure for poaching wild tigers, which is completely false
- The availability of tiger products from farmed animals builds demand for these products, increasing the incentive for poaching
- It is vastly cheaper to poach a tiger (about $10) than to raise it on a farm ($10 per day in food alone)
- Consumers view products from farmed tigers as inferior to those from wild-killed ones.
Here is what becomes of farmed tigers in China. They are hunted in fake “big game” shoots, their pelts are made into rugs and clothing, their meat is eaten (yes), their carcasses are deboned and the bones steeped in vats of wine, then sold as “tiger wine.”
All this happens behind the smoke screen of “domestic” versus “international” trade, of China’s 1993 ban on tiger bone products, and fake compliance with international wildlife protection regimes.
While Mills’s book gets these points across effectively, it is not very inspiring reading, as it details one failed attempt after another by international organizations and high-level conferences to “save the tiger” in the face of false cooperation by, primarily, Chinese government officials to do whatever they please.
Luxury tiger goods are big business in Asia. What’s true for tiger-derived products is also true for bear paws, bear bile, rhino horn, and elephant ivory. Indiscriminate killing of the latter two species puts them on the path to extinction as well. Some Chinese investors openly say they are stockpiling these animal parts for the time when the animals are extinct and the “value” of their collections will skyrocket.
We in the United States are part of the problem. Inconsistent policies across states allow private individuals to keep wild animals, and there are more tigers in U.S. back yards than in the wild. Often the conditions they are maintained in are filthy, too small, and in every respect wholly inadequate. You may recall the notorious and tragic episodes that have resulted in Jackson Township, N.J., and Zanesville, Ohio.
I am a regular supporter of Panthera, an organization dedicated to saving the big cats in the wild. Unfortunately, even their promotional material skirts a fundamental problem, by emphasizing the fight against “illegal trade,” when China’s tiger farms are perfectly legal. Mills supports her text with ample footnotes and a short section on “what you can do,” including strengthening state laws about private tiger ownership in the United States. Her website provides more ideas.