Chances are you’ve already seen the viral video (below) of “chubby” tigers chasing an aerial drone around in the snow. Unfortunately, the reality is a lot grimmer than the video's cute captions and light-hearted music make out.
As noted by science journalist John R Platt on Twitter, this is a tiger farm in China.
The video was filmed at Harbin Siberian Tiger Park in China’s Heilongjiang Province. This farm keeps up the pretense of being a tourist-friendly wildlife park, although this farm, and many others, “exist mainly to breed and kill tigers," according to a report by McClatchy in 2014.
Debbie Banks, head of the Environmental Investigation Agency’s Tigers and Wildlife Crime Campaign, told IFLScience: “These tigers serve no conservation purpose as they can’t ever be released into the wild. Treated like a commodity under the law and by businesses across the country, tigers are in practice farmed for their body parts to be used for tiger bone wine, tiger skin rugs, tiger teeth, claw jewelry, and tiger meat."
"The trade in these farmed tiger parts has done nothing to relieve pressure on wild tigers, rather it perpetuates the desirability for tiger parts,” she added.
Tiger bone wine is the real cash cow for these slaughter farms. This bizarre traditional Chinese medicine is made by steeping tiger bones in rice wine. Eventually, after the bones are soaked for a number of weeks, Chinese herbs and spices are added, resulting in a light-brown liquor said to boost sex drive, virility, and strength.
Obviously, that is unverified nonsense. However, the demand for this wine is only increasing in China, due to their growing middle class who are desperate to shell out for a status symbol, such as this bone-infused wine or a tiger skin pelt.
China banned the domestic trade of tigers and their products in 1993. After all, there are more tigers in this short video than there are wild tigers in the whole of China. Statistics vary but it's thought there are just seven to 20 wild tigers in China, while there's an estimated 6,000 in captivity. Despite their scarcity, the law is hardly enforced and tiger products are openly traded.
The video is believed to have been first uploaded by China's state-run media network China Central Television (CCTV+). Once again, highlighting the Chinese government’s lack of concern about the plight of their country’s tigers.
"In a recent revision to the national Wildlife Protection Law that came in to force in January this year, the government decentralized the authority to issue licenses for captive tiger skin trade to the provincial level; a move that will further obscure the scale of the domestic trade in farmed tiger parts," Banks added.