After years of investigation, officials in the Czech Republic have uncovered a gruesome tiger slaughterhouse where dead animals were being processed for sale on the black market. Operation Trophy discovered the facility in Prague, exposing a criminal network that was selling tiger parts for use in traditional Asian medicines.
Five years after they began their investigation, the team found a house filled with tiger pelts, meat, bones, and whole bodies. One recently killed tiger was discovered in a garden shed, a bullet wound in its throat to avoid spoiling its beautiful – and valuable – coat.
Since 2013, many tiger parts have been seized by authorities in the Czech Republic. These include bones, teeth, claws, broth, and even whiskers. While the Czech Republic might seem like an unlikely location for an illicit tiger trade, the country has a large Vietnamese population, creating a demand for tiger parts within the country and providing ties to traders and traffickers in Asia.
In Vietnam, the most common tiger product is tiger bone medicine, which is believed to help joint problems like arthritis. There are thousands of captive tigers in Asia, many of which are bred thanks to the value of their body parts.
In 2007, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) declared that tigers should not be bred for their body parts and that tiger farming should be phased out. However, thanks to the immense value of tiger parts – tiger “wine” is worth over $30,000 a case – this phasing out has yet to be achieved.
In the Czech Republic, tigers can technically be bred to supply to zoos, circuses, and shows. Having confiscated many dead tiger parts, officials decided to inspect all live tigers kept in the country in 2015. They found 174 tigers housed mainly in private facilities and discovered many inconsistencies in the paperwork documenting the deaths and transfer of these animals.
The tiger trade has recently expanded in the Czech Republic thanks to a new kind of children’s entertainment – cuddling cubs. Unsurprisingly, the cubs only remain cute – and safe – for about a year or so. They then might be used in circuses and shows for another few years, but when they reach sexual maturity they pose more of a risk, making them far more valuable dead than alive.
Operation Trophy involved 175 customs officers, 40 police officers, six inspectors, two vets, and an expert witness specialized in welfare. The team located a breeders’ facility which was meant to house 44 tigers and 80 lions. However, 16 of these registered tigers were missing. Tiger and bear skins, tiger claws, and a vast amount of cash were all seized from the property. The conditions the animals were kept in were “a stark contrast to the basic ethological requirements for keeping [tigers],” notes a CITES report on the investigation.
Then, the investigators found where the bodies were processed. “There were many bodies of animals in different stages of decomposition, some of which were stored in freezers, but the rotting carcasses were spread around the plot or they were stored in different types of vessels,” the report states. “The terrible smell made the operation more difficult.”
Thankfully, the team managed to identify those allegedly involved. Le Xuan Vu, a Vietnamese trader, would order tigers from big cat breeder Ludvik Berousek, who would then hand them over to hunting enthusiast Milos Hrozinek. Together, Hrozinek and Vu would then dismember the animals. The three men have been charged. Hrozinek is currently in custody while the other two are out on bail.