March 17, 2010

Tigers Under Threat At Chinese Zoo

A zoo in northeastern China has been shutdown after a surge of Siberian tigers have been killed for the use of making a virility tonic, the AFP news agency recently reported.

The Global Times reported on Wednesday that China's forestry ministry ordered the zoo in the city of Shenyang to suspend operations and have urged the local government to look into the deaths of 13 of the endangered animals.

The Beijing News said that authorities are investigating whether the Shenyang Forest Wildlife Zoo in Liaoning province was harvesting tiger parts to produce ingredients for the lucrative traditional Chinese medicine market.

The problems at the zoo have brought concerns over the current "Year of the Tiger," because of the 6,000 captive tigers held in the nation's zoos and breeding farms.

China set up tiger farms in the 1980s to try and preserve the big cats, intending to release some into the wild.  However conservation groups say many farms harvest ingredients for traditional medicine.

The Beijing News quoted unnamed zoo officials to say that between 40 and 50 tigers have died at the privately operated zoo since 2000, and that it was an "open secret" that the zoo was producing tiger-bone liquor.

Tiger parts like penises and bones have been used in traditional Chinese medicines to increase sexual potency or treat certain illnesses.

Troubles at the zoo were first brought into light when two hungry tigers were shot and killed as they mauled a zoo worker in November last year.

Press reports have said that since then, 11 more tigers have died at the financially strapped zoo due to malnutrition and poor conditions.

The Beijing News said that large vats of tiger-bone liquor have been produced at the zoo since 2005, and were given to high-level offices of the provincial forestry, parks, and police bureaus.

China banned all trade in tiger bones and related products in 1993.  It is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which also bars such sales.

China is thought to have only 50 to 60 tigers left in the wild, including only about 20 Siberian tigers.