February 27, 2017

Cute viral tiger video is hiding a sinister reality

A video of captive Siberian tigers in China chasing a drone has quickly gone viral since being published on Feb. 22. But behind the 92 seconds of viewing pleasure is a much darker picture.

Having chased the drone across open snow at Siberian Tiger Park in Harbin city, northeast China, the tigers bring it to ground and begin trying to gnaw it apart as if it were meat.

Having the animals attempt to eat a hunk of metal and battery material is pretty questionable all by itself. However, the whole set up of the park has been called into question since the video, released by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, went viral.

The purpose of the drone chase was said to be to get the tigers exercised and back in shape after a lazy winter, and the purpose of Siberian Tiger Park is supposed to be conservation. A 2014 report from the McClatchy news agency, though, suggested tigers' welfare is not the main focus.

A reporter visiting the park found tigers kept in small cages,"visibly rolling in their excrement," while park employees openly said that bottles of wine were made from tiger bone, which is a banned product in China.

Tourists at the park have been seen to throw live chickens and lumps of meat to tigers, and captive tigers across China have been observed in concrete enclosures "with no habitat enrichment whatsoever", according to Debbie Banks, head of the Tigers Campaign at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) based in London.

Tiger farming

Banks believes the drone video is "a distraction from quite a sinister and dark reality," because "those tigers are going to end up being turned into tiger bone wine or made into tiger skin rugs."

Siberian Tiger Park could be more of a tiger farm than a conservation site or tourist attraction. A 2013 EIA report suggested tiger farming actually stimulates the market for tiger products and encourages poaching, because hunting a wild tiger is cheaper than raising one in captivity.

As is often the case with bans of this nature, those people who are determined enough will find ways around it.

"We've met with a taxidermist, for example, who was legally buying skins from zoo tigers, and when the consignment was delivered to him, it was actually the entire tiger," Banks told Live Science. The taxidermist also asked customers to give him back the official certificate that accompanies legal hides, in return for discounts on pelts, so he could reuse the certificate for illegally traded hides.

While only around 360 Siberian tigers currently exist in the wild, the Harbin park alone could have as many as 1,000, according to reports.


Image credit: NBC News/YouTube