Criminally Stupid

By Other Lisa, cross-posted at the paper tiger

This is a wretchedly awful move on the part of the Chinese government, if they do in fact go ahead with plans to reopen legal trade in tiger parts:

Tiger organs, teeth, bones and penises fetch high prices on the black market, where they are used in traditional Chinese medicines to treat ailments like rheumatism. In other parts of Asia, the bones are considered an aphrodisiac.

China banned domestic trade in all tigers and tiger parts in 1993, but is considering re-opening the business based on farm-bred, captive animals.

But that would send a signal that it is acceptable to buy tiger parts which would threaten wild tiger populations, experts in the wildlife trade said.

“We’re afraid that poachers living near the world’s last populations of tigers may kill them to supply illegal markets that are likely to develop alongside any new legal ones,” Susan Lieberman, head of WWF’s Global Species Programme, said in a statement.

“This could be the final act that drives the tiger towards extinction.”

I can’t think of any positive spin, any possible excuse for this. What in the world is motivating the government? Surely tiger farmers and traders in animal parts aren’t that powerful a lobby. I can only take cultural relativism so far. Some things are just wrong.

If anyone has any suggestions on how to take action against this disgusting, irresponsible decision, please let me know…

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 27 Comments

What are they thinking? This is atrocious.

September 29, 2005 @ 12:03 am | Comment

Yeah. Jaw-dropping, staggeringly irresponsible.

September 29, 2005 @ 12:05 am | Comment

that is chinese capitalism, i mean socialism with chinese characteristics…..:(

a few months after SARS was curbed Guangdong re-opned the civet trade, only to be shut down after another isolated case surfaced a few months later.

this is china’s version of the ‘lobbying’ pressure at the province, not too different from US, except a bit more opaque (and perhaps sometime bribe might be involved).

but let’s forget about how ‘cute’ tigers are for the time being. if farm raised tiger can help the survival of wild tigers, it is a good thing. (we have farm raise bison steak and salmon, don’t we)
the problem is that there is no way to distinguish whether the parts are from farms or the wild. so this is not an implementable option.

September 29, 2005 @ 12:53 am | Comment

The problem is, as this article states, is that by creating a legal market, you encourage the illegal market as well.

Tigers are a critically endangered species. It seems to me that whatever economic pressure (bribes) is being applied by the provincial types, that there isn’t so much money in it that the central government couldn’t take a strong stand.

it’s just wrong.

The Bush administration tries every day to weaken the Endangered Species Act in the US, but the fact remains that it is illegal here to hunt and traffic in endangered species, regardless of any pressure at the local level to do so.

I hope that China’s environmentalists will take a firm stand against this.

September 29, 2005 @ 1:24 am | Comment

The logic sounds a bit like the legalization of drugs idea. Legalize and regulate the trade, and you cut down both the price and the profit to the criminal element. The only problem is: Will the supply of farm raised tigers be enough to meet the demand? Somewhere I read that the demand for tiger parts and rhino horn was going up as Chinese begin earning more money. That would suggest that government farmed tigers would only meet part of the demand, leaving poaching the other means of supply. I am not opposed to farming tiger parts per se, but I am opposed to seeing the animal become extinct. Farming tigers seems to be just another step in that direction. China would be better served by an educational campaign targeting those who believe in the curative powers of tiger parts, demonstrating that the claims have no basis in fact. The problem is; those most likely to believe in such powers are also those least likely to accept any scientific proof to the contrary.

September 29, 2005 @ 1:43 am | Comment

Well as I said in a thread below – about the fashion for tiger-skins in Tibet:

Anyone who abuses a cat, deserves a slow painful death.

And killing a tiger is even worse than burning a Van Gogh painting. There will always be other good painters, but once the tigers are extinct, that’s it. No replacements. Billions of years of evolution (in which I DO see God’s hand) wiped out so that some vulgarian CCP cadres’s wife can dress like a whore.

Death penalty for all tiger-killers! Come on, CCP, start executing the REAL criminals!

September 29, 2005 @ 2:29 am | Comment

That’s exactly whose hand you see, Ivan. More people should remember that. I dont know what else to say…

September 29, 2005 @ 2:37 am | Comment

If combined with a strong anti-poaching program, I think this could work.

If traders can count on an increased income from farm production, and increased jail time if they hunt illegally, they would likely opt to accept the restrictions on hunting wild tigers and concentrate on building their stocks.

Demand for tiger products would increase, but the supply of tigers would increase faster. For example, tiger skins sell for between $2,500 and $25,000 now, and then there are bones and other parts, making it an extremely valuable animal. That’s a very high profit given the cost of raising a tiger. So there is great incentive to build numbers fast, before tiger farms become too common and prices drop. Then when legal tiger prices do drop, the temptation to hunt wild tigers also disappears.

The only possible drawback I can see is in the beginning, with farmers stealing tigers illegally from the wild to start their own farms, but even that is far more easily regulated than poaching.

September 29, 2005 @ 3:32 am | Comment

But Boo, by creating a legal market, you are increasing the incentive to kill wild tigers. How would regulators be able to distinguish between wild and farmed parts?

I agree with lirelou – a vigorous education program against these practices makes far more sense.

September 29, 2005 @ 10:33 am | Comment

Other Lisa, there is absolutely no doubt that there will be a great incentive to kill wild tigers. But I’m even more pessimistic about education programs, because when money and poverty are involved, versus education, money wins.

So what you have to do, and I’m not sure China has the wherewithal to do this, is increase penalties for poaching wild tigers, increase enforcement (screw education, just put a bounty on poachers), and simultaneously encourage regulated tiger farms. In a few years the farms will be established, the demand will have evened out, meaning prices will have dropped precipitously, and there will be no more incentive for anyone to shoot wild tigers because there’s no money involved anymore.

The danger point is at the initial stage, but I’d say we’re already in danger.

September 29, 2005 @ 10:49 am | Comment

Boo, I do see your points. But I think not going down this road to begin with is still the better option.

The chiru in Tibet seem to be doing better now, thanks to a vigorous anti-poaching program (am I right about this?).

Education can accomplish a lot of things, and so can enforcement and penalties.

September 29, 2005 @ 11:38 am | Comment

it is theoretical possible to farm tiger in countries with good legal system and clean officials, eg. singapore, or US.

but in china, it would be easy to buy certificate for poached product. so this is really a very risky move.

as for death penalty, it is imposed on panda killer and panda skin trader, i heard. but it is controversial about the how the lives of a human being compare with that of a bear.

September 29, 2005 @ 6:37 pm | Comment

I don’t believe in the death penalty, personally. But I strongly believe that tigers do not exist to be made into “medicine” and “tonics,” most of which are all about increasing men’s (how can I say this without hitting the spam filter?!) hardness. Tigers just weren’t meant to be farmed.

September 29, 2005 @ 7:15 pm | Comment

On the bright side, this could hurt Princeton.

September 29, 2005 @ 8:48 pm | Comment

Let me play devil’s advocate, although I actually think this is a bad plan that will have equally bad, unintended consequences.

What if tigers are doomed anyway? No amount of conservation efforts have been able to arrest their decline, from what I can see. Do any of us think there will still be tigers in the wild in 100 years? I am pretty pessimistic, much as I hope that there are. It’s really hard to imagine the incentive for killing wild tigers being much higher, given the current, poorly policed market for tiger products. Also, it’s not just the poaching that threatens to do in tigers, but the habitat destruction as well.

If that’s the case, then the larger and more genetically diverse the population in captivity the better, even if some of those tigers are being farmed for ghastly things like tiger tonics.

Having said that, I agree with Lisa. Cultural relativism ought to go out the window here. Tiger products are nasty and pointless, and rooted either in superstition that ought have no place in modern society, or in shameless pandering to face that could probably be bought in other, less rapacious ways. Like with a bottle of Martell.

Plus it’s hard to imagine a tiger farm being anything other than stripey, industrialized misery.

September 29, 2005 @ 9:52 pm | Comment

let me first agree with you guys that there is zero scientific basis about the medicinal function.

but (if it is not endangered), what makes a tiger different from a bison, or a pig?

September 29, 2005 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

Sun Bin, I actually wanted to address your point, but I was at the office and I don’t have a lot of time to post. There have been times where I’ve thought from a moral standpoint (and an environmental one) that being a vegetarian makes the most sense. But I’ve never quite been able to get there.

That said, pigs are food animals, tigers aren’t. Pigs aren’t endangered, tigers are. As for bison…well, I guess people are eating buffalo these days – I’ve had it, quite good! The buffalo that are being raised for food that I know of are kept on a pretty large range of land, with room to roam. I think if we are going to eat meat and we have the choice, there’s a lot to be said for avoiding factory farm animals and animals that are raised in a cruel manner. I realize that this is an idealistic attitude and that a lot of people in the world don’t have a choice. But you look at the ways that animals are raised nowadays, and there are a lot of downsides. Bird flu, human flu, antibiotic resistant bacteria…

I’m not sure how well any animal adjusts to captivity, but certainly some do better than others. Tigers, as high-level predators, are particularly unsuitable to being a “farm” animal.

My sister volunteers for an “exotic feline breeding compound” – this is quite a compromise in lifestyle for big cats, but it’s justifiable in that it’s about preserving and increasing the species. Her comment on my blog was: “V1agr@ would be my first suggestion to those buying tiger parts to increase their virility. There is NO excuse for this…none. Tigers aren’t meant to be bred in captivity for any other reason than increasing the species and preventing extinction. To ‘farm’ them, like domesticated cattle, for use in outdated ‘medicines’ is obscene.” On some level, I react to this on an emotional level as well – I too feel that it’s obscene. It just feels very wrong to me.

I used to work at a very famous zoo here in the States. Same kind of thing. You can make a lot of arguments for and against zoos, but nowadays at least the purpose of them is to educate people and to aid in captive breeding of endangered species.

I was quite impressed, by the way, by the Giant Panda Breeding Facility near Chengdu. Again, though there are many arguments why animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity, this facility was really impressive; the pandas had spacious enclosures, a lot of room and attention paid to them.

September 29, 2005 @ 10:53 pm | Comment

Meh, very bad idea. Regardless of what the motivations of the State are, it will only give stimulous to the illegal market. As was pointed out, how do you tell what’s “legal” and “illegal” tiger parts? You can’t, end of story.

And in any case, wtf do Chinese people need tiger parts? It’s like those silly medical adverts on Chinese TV promising to make people grow taller. Though traditional Chinese medicine does have some uses, the benifits of tiger parts have not been proven at all.

Shame on the government in indulging public ignorance.

September 30, 2005 @ 10:35 am | Comment

Other Lisa,

i think i agree with most of your points. i always felt guilty not being able to eat plant only :(

i was just trying to start a discussion to highlight some of these seeming dilemma for discussion, by posting that question.

so for those who can’t resist the protein like myself, mushroom is an alternative for protein for some time. then, we can establish a few rules:

1. cuteness is a valid rule, that excludes dogs, panda, peacocks, and for some tigers. but this only applies to ourselves, as cuteness is a very subjective feeling. (i think tigers are beautiful)
2. endangered is another, this should apply to all (and for convenience of enforcing this rule…no farmed tigers, esp in developing countries). ok
3. “humanely farmed” – i agree, foie gras is out.
but something else made me sad. because chicken factory is more inhumane than those other farms you quoted.
i don’t really know the answer to this one, but it is ok for me to boycott chicken meat if needed.
i know citing another (chicken) wrong does not make the this one (tiger) right. but …

4. another perspective is energy efficiency, i.e. those high up in the food chain (carnivores like tiger) waste more energy to farm, and is not as environmental as, say poor chicken, in this measure.

September 30, 2005 @ 6:11 pm | Comment

p.s. i wish you guys also cover the bear as well. those that were kept for gile extraction are the most cruel, and violates all the rules above.

September 30, 2005 @ 6:12 pm | Comment

raj,

i think the solution is probably in education.

do you know how many different miracle herbal therapies (boasting exotic ingredients) sold in China are actually v1agra and c1al1s?
i just read in the news another case a couple days ago.

so clinically tested pharmaceutical needs to disguise itself as herbal drug to sell!

September 30, 2005 @ 6:13 pm | Comment

“The biggest threat to endangered species throughout the world is undoubtedly the growing Chinese middle class” – this was told to me not in Beijing but by a South Africa scuba diver off the coast of Zanzibar in Tanzania. We talked for a long time about what Chinese traders had done to the shark populations there, so when I went to the Dar es Salaam fish market a couple weeks later I performed a little test. According to CITES treaty it is illegal to trade shark fins, I know that Tanzania is a member, I’m not sure about China. But I entered the fish market that day and asked in Swahili “Una po po” and within about five minutes I had a swarm of Tanzanian fishemermen literally screaming at me throwing shark fins in my face. And that was at the national fish market! What was the going price? A cool 60 dollars per fin. For those of you who have never been to Tanzania that is about two month’s salary. It is an offer that no sane fishermen would decline. After the craziness had settled down I was able to ask one of the fishmongers who buys the fins.

“Oh wachina kila siku wakwenda hapa” Which meant that Wachina (the Chinese people) come down there everyday.

So that just shows how far the Chinese diaspora works to feed this ridiculously silly food market all over China. Think about that the next time you want to sip some shark fin soup.

The sad reality is that none of the stuff really works to stop impotence. In the end we probably should be singing Merck’s or Pfizer’s praises for making a pill that has probably done more for the environment than any other drug in history.

September 30, 2005 @ 9:27 pm | Comment

Sun Bin, sorry I missed your comments before now – I pretty much agree with everything you say, and the way you’ve laid out the arguments makes a lot of sense.

The farm-raised bears are another horrible tragedy. I’ll keep my eyes open for any new news on this and post as soon as I see something. I do find it hopeful that there is a movement inside China to halt this practice. Outside environmental movements can provide support, we can sign appropriate treaties and do what we can to halt trade in endangered species on our end, but ultimately it will be up to Chinese people to make the necessary changes.

Austin, that is an amazing story. And I totally agree with you. All hail V1agr@!

October 2, 2005 @ 12:24 am | Comment

First, I have extensive experience using and making Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM). This stuff works, sometimes not as well as western allopathic medicine, and sometimes better.

Second, tiger products unquestionably work, and extremely well. “Western scientific proof” or not, the Chinese have observed and used herbal medicines for much longer than they have had writing; the “Yellow Emperor’s Classic” is about 2000 years old.

Tiger products work exceptionally well for most types of contusion, bruising, bone breakage and contusion, and other direct trauma. Other tiger products have steroids in them that are effective on humans. When the ban on tiger products was enforced in NYC about eight years ago, I could tell right away, because the medicines I was using stopped working.

It is absolutely essential to understand the realities about this trade if you wish to stop it.

First (of the second part), farmed tigers do not have as much medicinal benefit as wild tigers. The leisurely lifestyle of a farmed tiger produces much softer bone (I have been able to flake pieces off of a farmed tiger’s femur with my fingernail), which is less strong medicinally. A wild tiger is living on the hard edge of life, and produces more, and probably more concentrated hormonal and enzymal substances, which are the medicinally valuable parts. A wild tiger will engage in fights and hunting, and will have produced more testosterone and and similar tiger specific adrenal-like substances than a farmed tiger, which probably eats kibble or something equally boring.

Again, I have both personally experienced and spoken with TCM apothecaries about this, and all agree that farmed products, tiger and other animals, are inferior to wild products.

Compare the taste of that pretty farmed salmon to the wild caught Alaskan variety.

Therefore, tiger farming may very well be merely a mask for poaching.

It is, however, possible to use vegetal herbs to approximate the benefits of animal products. It is not cheap, as many plant herbs must be used, they must be used correctly, and they must be aged for several years. I have come up with some pretty useful all-plant formulae, but I have to age them for a very long time. Much cheaper to use the real thing; too bad about that extinction stuff.

I suppose the farmers could build and use tiger exercise equipment. Let’s see, how hard/dangerous/expensive would it be to put a tiger on a treadmill? Use your imagination.

Therefore, I think that legalised tiger parts will doom the tiger. Much better to go with the plant steroids now, and have tigers, than have tiger steroids now and then in a few years, no tigers at all anywhere for anything.

October 2, 2005 @ 3:19 pm | Comment

Bruce, I appreciate your perspective on this, since I’m not that knowledgable about Chinese medicine (though I’ve had some now and again).

I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, because you’ve made it clear that the price paid for tiger parts is just too high regardless of their effectiveness. But frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass if tiger parts have some efficacy or not. I realize that we humans are at the top of the food chain, but our lives aren’t the only thing that matters. This attitude that everything on earth exists for our use and our pleasure has wreaked so much damage on the global environment – and in the end, it will leave us with diminished lives. I’m not putting this very well, but a tiger is more important to me as a living thing than as a source for parts for human consumption.

October 2, 2005 @ 11:18 pm | Comment

do you know how tiger ski is extracted , they put a red hot ponted iron rod through the anus of the tiger wand it pierces all the organs . this is to ensure that there is no external injury on the skin which would reduce its price . do you want even farmed tigers to go through this ?
and imagine the wild tigers who are caught in a trap , waiting for sure death , how does it feel?
as for the moon bears and bile extraction, whichis done is ghastly manner , china refuses to do any thing substantial ? why ? is it because this has no links to trade and capitalism?
one question to everyone , who supprts tiger farms? do we really need to kill some animal for something as non essential to our life as decorating our dresses with their skin? cant we just try and sensitize instead of farming them for their skins?

October 5, 2005 @ 11:13 pm | Comment

This is terrrible even know im 13 i want to blow them scumbags to living hell !!! They should all be shot

January 14, 2006 @ 8:29 am | Comment

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