Chinese demand for tiger wine and skins puts wild cats in peril

Conservationists concerned as tiger farming industry removes stigma of buying status symbols and boosts illegal trade

A pack of tigers lunge at a live chicken purchased for them by a tourist at the Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin, China. Photograph: Qilai Shen/Washington Post

To the thump of dance music, four tigers roll over in succession, and then raise themselves up on to their haunches. A man in a shiny blue shirt waves a metal stick at them, and they lift their front paws to beg.

The “show” takes place twice a day in a gloomy 1,000-seat auditorium – empty on a recent afternoon except for one Chinese tourist, two reporters and a security guard, its broken seats and cracked spotlights painting a picture of neglect.

Outside, hundreds of tigers pace back and forth in small, scrubby enclosures or lie listlessly in much smaller, concrete and rusted metal cages. An occasional plaintive growl rends the air.

This is the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village in the southern Chinese city of Guilin, one of the country’s biggest tiger farms. It is part of a booming industry that is threatening to drive this magnificent animal toward extinction in the wild, conservationists say, by fuelling demand for “luxury” tiger parts.

Encouraged by the tiger farming industry, China’s wealthy are rediscovering a taste for tiger bone wine – promoted as a treatment for rheumatism and impotence – as well as tiger skin rugs and stuffed animals, sought after as status symbols among an elite obsessed with conspicuous consumption.

That trend, in turn, is only making tiger poaching more lucrative across Asia – because wild tigers are still cheaper to kill and smuggle across borders than captive bred ones and often preferred by consumers. Farming has removed any stigma from tiger products and undermined global efforts to stamp out the illegal trade.

“The argument put forward by the tiger-farming lobby is that farmed tiger products will flood the market, relieving pressure on wild tigers,” said Debbie Banks of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international campaigning organisation. “This is a ridiculous notion and has turned into a disastrous experiment.”

Tigers numbers globally may have stabilised in recent years, yet they are still perilously low, and wild tigers are still dying in record numbers in India, their main habitat, with many killed by poachers to satisfy demand from China.

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China’s Barking Lion

China ‘dog-lion’: Henan zoo mastiff poses as Africa cat

The sign reads “feizhou shi” (African lion) but a Tibetan mastiff is in the cage

An animal described as an African lion at a Chinese zoo was exposed as a fraud – when the creature started barking in front of visitors.

Chinese media reports said the zoo had replaced its genuine lion with a Tibetan mastiff dog.

A zoo official in Henan province said the dog – owned by one of the workers – was put in the cage when the real lion was sent away to a breeding centre.

Outraged visitors to the zoo in Louhe city said they had been cheated.

A Tibetan mastiff is a particularly hairy breed

According to a report in the Beijing Youth Daily, the fraud came to light when a mother visited the zoo, in a park in the city of Louhe, to show her son the sounds different animals made.

But when they got to the cage marked “African lion” – which had a sign describing the range and characteristics of the animal – they were shocked to hear the creature bark.

It was then that zoo keepers revealed the so-called lion was actually a Tibetan mastiff, an animal that can have a furry brown coat, making it look a little like a lion.

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