It's estimated that less than 50 tigers live in the wild in China, but that at least 6,000 are being bred in farms for their body parts. China is not alone in their practice of breeding the big cats for their skins, bones, and meat in order to feed an insatiable demand for traditional medicine and status symbols, but at the ongoing Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) summit taking place in South Africa, they were alone in requesting that the ban on the practice be lifted.
“There was a powerful message in the resounding silence when the Chair of the Committee asked if there was any support for China’s proposal,” Debbie Banks of the Environmental Investigation Agency said in a statement. “The rest of the world can see that tiger farming has no place in conservation. Now it’s time for action. To stop the breeding and phase out farms.”
Despite the tiger being listed as “endangered” and China signing the CITES treaty that prohibits the international trade of tigers and their derivatives, the country has been accused of setting up a vast network of over 200 farms to breed the cats in their thousands to supply the growing demand for their body parts. The Chinese claim that this is simply domestic trade in the animals, something not covered by the CITES ban, although CITES does state that tigers should not be bred for their body parts. Unfortunately, CITES has no way of enforcing this.
The Chinese further argue that by producing their own supply, the state-approved farms reduce pressure on the wild animals. But almost all experts argue that this is not what happens. Instead, by allowing the domestic trade (although there's further evidence that it's actually international) to flourish, they perpetuate the desirability of the animals and increase the pressure on the few remaining wild tigers, as well as endangering other Asian big cats.
But China is not alone in farming tigers. Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos are all also accused of allowing tiger farms to exist, with at best law enforcement ignoring the farms and at worse taking a cut from the profits. A year-long Guardian investigation recently revealed how the Laos government not only sanctioned the development of farms, but took a 2 percent tax from all illegal wildlife traded through its borders, including the body parts of the cats. This is despite Laos claiming that they were cracking down on the wildlife trade.
Now, Laos is claiming to take a stand, being the first tiger farming nation to finally implement CITES Decision 14.69, which states that “tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts”. Hopefully, by exposing the scale and extent of the farming, as well as quashing the Chinese's attempts to remove decision 14.69 from the treaty, further scrutiny will be placed on the practice and end the barbaric business.