June 10, 2008

‘Tiger Wine’ Being Sold at Chinese Animal Parks

Researchers from the Environmental Investigation Agency reported that Illegal "tiger bone wine" is still being made and sold by some animal parks in China.

Campaigners say staff at two parks offered to sell them the drink"”made from tiger carcasses soaked in rice wine.

The tigers are an endangered species and trading of their parts has been subject to an international ban since 1987 and has been outlawed in China since 1989.

The tiger's numbers are dwindling despite global conservation efforts.

Investigators found that the wine, deemed to be a health tonic to treat conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism, was being openly advertised at the parks, according to the UK-based NGO.

According to the park staff, the wine was made from tigers that had died after fighting with other big cats at the venues.

A supposed government permit that allows the sale of the tiger-derived wine on the premises was produced by one of the parks, but the EIA researchers said it was not possible to verify whether the permit was genuine.

One senior worker said that she was aware that the tigers were a protected species and trading of any part of the animals "in the open market" was prohibited.

The agency said that she went on to explain that the permit allowed "closed market" sales of the wine, meaning it could be sold from the park's premises.

Debbie Banks, head of the EIA's tiger campaign, called on the Chinese authorities to close down the illegal trade.

"We want other parks with similar tiger attractions to be investigated to see how widespread this tiger-bone wine-making practice is," she said.

"We also want the authorities to give a clear message to the business community that this illegal trade will not be tolerated."

Tigers now only occupy just 7% of their historical range, primarily as a result of habitat loss, hunting and poaching, according to conservationists.

Conservationists claim there are only 2,500 breeding adults left in the wild and without more resources made available to protect the animals, the cats face an uncertain future.

A number of "tiger farms" have been set up in China since the 1980s. These establishments are believed to house about 5,000 captive tigers, possibly more than remain in the wild.

The Chinese delegation raised the possibility of ending its domestic ban in order to allow the use of farmed tiger parts, as stated during last year's high-level summit of the global Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

They argued that this would prove to be the most sustainable option because it would satisfy the demand from traditional medicine practitioners without threatening the wild tiger population.

Some conservation groups supported this approach, while others warned that it would undermine efforts by the Chinese government to curb poaching.

They said that it would be cheaper to kill a wild tiger than to rear a captive one, and it would be very difficult to tell the difference between the two.

Banks said lifting the ban would increase demand and lead to a surge in poaching.

"It would be far too easy to launder their skins, bones and parts among those from legalized tiger farms. This would effectively declare an open season on wild tigers."


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