“Saving” tigers by selling them
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2010:
JAKARTA–The Year of the Tiger on the Chinese calendar opened
on February 14, 2010 with schemes to “save” tigers that posed
perhaps a greater threat to tiger welfare and wild tiger survival
than even aggressive poaching that has cut the wild tiger population
in half since the last Year of the Tiger in 1998.
For nine days in January 2010 the Indonesian wildlife
protection organization ProFauna enjoyed a rare victory against both
tiger poaching and the exploitation of captive tigers. ProFauna
helped to send the most brazen tiger poacher in memory to prison,
for the August 22, 2009 pre-dawn killing and butchery of a
20-year-old tiger named Sheila in her cage at the Taman Rimba Zoo in
Jambi, capital of Jambi province.
“As result of ProFauna’s intensive lobbying to the police and
forestry department,” ProFauna international communication officer
Butet Sitohang e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE, “the [apprehended] perpetrator on January 11, 2010 received a three-year-and-ten-month
prison sentence and a fine of one million Indonesian rupiah,” worth
about $107 U.S. The maximum prison sentence that the convicted perp
could have received would have been five years. Killing Sheila was
reportedly at least his third convicted offense.
But the poacher’s scheme was picayune compared to the notion
floated on January 20, 2010 by Indonesian director general of forest
protection and nature conservation Darori, who uses no surname.
Darori proposed that his agency should sell tigers as pets, at the
equivalent of $107,100 U.S. apiece.
“This idea came about after several wealthy businessmen
proposed buying them,” ministry official Didi Wuryanto told Agence
France-Press. “But we’re not in it for the money. We want to save
the tigers,” Didi Wuryanto insisted.
Purchasers would be required to keep pet tigers in cages not
less than 16 feet high, 19 feet wide, and 32 feet long.
Like counterparts in China, India, and Thailand, who have
challenged the Con-vention on International Trade in Endangered
Species prohibition on trans-border sales of captive tigers and parts
in recent years, Darori argued that tigers can best be preserved as
a quasi-domesticated species.
“Conservation of wildlife, including tigers, should be
taken up as an enterprise,” agreed Indian former principal chief
conservator of forests S. Parameshwarappa a few days later. “Farmed
tiger products could be sold to countries like China where there is a
demand. Money from this venture can be invested back into
conservation,” Paramesh-warappa told The Hindu.
But Darori’s proposal differed from the schemes advanced by
Parameshwarappa and others, in that it would put potential tiger
breeding stock into private hands, without overtly involving the
Indonesian government in tiger farming.
Darori spoke just as the Worldwide Fund for Nature introduced
an Adopt-a-Tiger fundraising theme for 2010. But WFN, known in the
U.S. as the World Wildlife Fund, recommended adopting tigers only in
the metaphorical sense–at least officially. As the leading
exponents of “sustainable economic use” of wildlife since 1961, the
Worldwide Fund for Nature does not oppose commercialization of
wildlife if it contributes to the survival of species in the wild.
Both Darori and Parameshwarappa spoke on the eve of the first
Asian ministerial conference on tiger conservation, held in Hua Hin,
Thailand. The ministers resolved to double the wild tiger population
before the 2022 Year of the Tiger.
But this resolution appeared to be seen by at least some of
the ministers as an invitation to breed even more tigers in captivity
than the thousands of captive tigers who already exist, on the
pretext of eventually “re-introducing” some to habitat which mostly
no longer exists–with the admitted goal of removing captive-bred
tigers from CITES Appendix I, so that tigers and tiger parts may be
freely sold. “Close to 6,000 tigers have been artificially bred and
raised in China,” said Yin Hong, vice head of the China State
Forestry Administration. China “can breed over 1,000 baby tigers
every year,” Yin Hong told the China News Service.
The world now has just 3,200 wild tigers, according to
official estimates. India, with the most wild tigers, claims
1,411. China, with the fewest wild tigers among nations known to
still have any, may have as few as 20, all of them of the far
northern Amur subspecies.
Darori in advancing the sale of tigers as pets did not
mention that trying to preserve tigers in the wild is costly,
inconvenient for development schemes, and dangerous for humans who
live or herd livestock near tigers.
These issues were already evident when Jim Corbett in 1944
assessed them in Man-Eaters of Kumaon, the first book-length plea
for saving wild tigers. After decades of hunting tigers who killed
humans in hopes that other tigers would become better tolerated,
Corbett came to fear that tigers were doomed by human economic
interests–and that was before the present demand for tiger parts for
use in “traditional Chinese medicine” emerged.
Truly traditional Chinese medicine is mostly herbal. The
“medicinal” market for wildlife parts, like the bushmeat trade in
Africa, exploded from obscurity to menace entire species mostly
after logging, road-building, and plantation clearing gave poachers
unprecedented access to wildlife.
Commerce in wildlife parts and bushmeat developed first to
exploit displaced animals. As demand grew, a business niche opened
for farming species such as tigers who breed readily in
captivity–but raising animals in captivity remains far more costly
than poaching them. Tiger breeders, however, can offset the
expense of raising tigers by exhibiting them. And, while poaching
Sheila at the Taman Rimba Zoo shocked Indonesia, hardly anyone
notices the turnover of cubs at many zoos, where some are almost
constantly on display at photo concessions, drugged and accessible
Until under 20 years ago such practices occurred often at
U.S. zoos too. But reinforcements to federal law and to the American
Zoo Association code of ethics mostly ended the involvement of
AZA-accredited zoos in back-door tiger dealing before tiger parts
became big business. Seventeen people were convicted in 2001-2002 of
selling tigers from U.S. roadside zoos to canned hunts and
trafficking their parts. Since then the racket, if it persists,
has had a low profile.
Tiger parts are the main business for several of the largest
and most notorious Chinese tiger exhibitors. “With pelts selling for
$20,000 and a single paw worth as much as $1,000, the value of a
dead tiger has never been higher,” reported Andrew Jacobs of the New
York Times on February 13, 2010. “If there is any mystery about
what happens to the big cats at Xiongsen Tiger and Bear Mountain
Village in Guilin, it is partly explained in the gift shop,” where
tiger bone wine is sold.
“Opened in 1993 with financing from the state forestry
administration, Xiongsen is China’s largest tiger-breeding
operation,” Jacobs added. “Some of its 1,500 tigers roam treeless
fenced areas, while many others are packed in small cages where they
Similar scenes are often reported from the Harbin Siberian
Tiger Park, along with feeding cattle and poultry to tigers alive,
to thrill paying visitors. Several other such facilities are known
to exist. Live feeding is illegal at Chinese zoos that are regulated
as zoos, but the tiger farms, though open to the public, are
regulated by a different agency.