Behind rusted bars, a skeletal tiger lies panting on the filthy concrete floor of his cage, covered in painful sores and weeping wounds. His once-powerful body is now so emaciated it is little more than a pitiful pile of fur and bones. In row after row of foul, cramped cages, 1,500 other tigers also lie alone, crippled and dying of starvation. One is hunched up against the side of her cage, her neck grotesquely deformed. Another, blinded in one eye, lies motionless. Others are kept locked in small, concrete enclosures, spending their days in perpetual darkness. They occasionally jump up on their hind legs to peer through the narrow slit windows, desperately seeking a rare glimpse of daylight.
When death finally comes, the dead tigers are taken to a massive subterranean factory. Here, they are stripped of their valuable skin and flesh and have their bones join the hundreds of tiger skeletons boiling in huge wine vats. This is the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village – the largest collection of endangered tigers in the world.
Throughout China, it is estimated that at least 6,000 tigers – twice the amount existing in the wild – are suffering and dying in horrific “tiger farms” like Xiongshen. These vile businesses, run by a handful of wealthy and powerful men, breed and slaughter thousands of tigers in concentration camp-like conditions – all so that their owners can make millions by selling tiger parts under legal permit from China’s State Forestry Administration. China’s legal tiger trade is in violation of CITES agreements and has single-handedly undermined millions of dollars in conservation efforts.
Ever since the first tiger farms were established in the late 1980s, demand for tiger products has greatly increased, and, with it, tiger poaching. It is still cheaper to kill a wild tiger than to raise a captive one, so tiger farms frequently abuse the permit system and launder illegally-poached tigers as captive specimens for greater profits. The result is that, every single day, at least one more wild tiger is killed to fuel China’s demand for parts. If this continues, the tiger will be extinct in the wild in just 20 years.
But the tiger farm owners don’t care. In fact, many of them are literally banking on extinction, accumulating stockpiles of carcasses as a bloody “investment” which they hope will increase in value once the tiger is gone forever.
This evil industry has its roots in a single, outdated law. Under China’s 1989 Law on the Protection of Wildlife, wildlife is merely a resource for human use. The law encourages the breeding of tigers, bears, and other wildlife for commercial purposes, set up the frequently-abused permit system for selling wildlife parts, and affords captive animals no legal protection from abuse and neglect. Fortunately, attitudes in China are quickly changing – and the law is about to follow.
As the cries for change become stronger, Chinese lawmakers are finally revising the Law on the Protection of Wildlife. This single law has the potential to shut down the tiger farms, end China’s wildlife trade, and turn the nation into a global leader in wildlife conservation.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s legislative body, plans on considering a new draft of the law by the end of this year. So far, things appear to be moving in the right direction. Insiders claim that the current draft discourages wildlife trade and promotes animal welfare, something which would have been unprecedented just 5 years ago.
But there is no room for complacency. The current regulator for wildlife breeding is largely pro-trade, and the multimillion dollar, politically-connected tiger farming industry has a strong lobby force. They will be doing everything in their power to ensure that their evil business continues – and that the tiger goes extinct.
The good news is that China values its international reputation above all else, meaning that a massive global outcry will encourage lawmakers to do the right thing and put an end to the tiger trade once and for all. If they do, conservationists say that it would be “the single biggest contribution to securing a future for wild tigers.”
The decision that China makes within the next year could mean the difference between extinction and survival for the wild tiger. Until then, it is up to every conscientious citizen to urge them to do the right thing.
Together, we can put the dark stain of tiger farming in the past, and create a future where the greatest of the great cats is free to be wild.
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