What do you do when you can’t poach tigers anymore? Why you raise them, of course. Instead of stopping the sale of tiger parts in countries like China, some enterprising Chinese entrepreneurs are simply raising tigers on farms, circumventing  problems with poaching in the wild. At the same time, they’re normalizing the sale and consumption of tiger meat and tiger-based “medicinal products,” as well as the decorative value of skins and other tiger items like claws.

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Tiger farms in China are a sad affair, as the Washington Post’s Simon Denyar can attest. Denyar details a “show” in an empty 1,000-seat theater at one of the largest farms in China, where a man with a stick gets the tigers to beg while outside “hundreds of tigers pace back and forth in small, scrubby enclosures or lie listlessly in much smaller cages made of concrete and rusted metal. An occasional plaintive growl rends the air.”

The wealthy in China are rediscovering a taste for tiger bone wine, tiger skins and other luxury tiger items – while the population of wild tigers in the world dwindles rapidly and currently hovers below 4,000 animals – and the tiger farming trade in China booms. Of course, the farming of tigers makes the capture and sale of wild tigers even more lucrative, making poaching an even bigger problem according to the Washington Post. “The argument put forward by the tiger-farming lobby is that farmed tiger products will flood the market, relieving pressure on wild tigers,” said Debbie Banks of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “This is a ridiculous notion and has turned into a disastrous experiment.”

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The largest number of tigers in the wild remain in India, which has a population of just over 1,700. Demand in China, however, is taxing this population and environmentalists say the next two years are critical . At the same time, China is reviewing its wildlife law and must decide whether to side with its own tiger farming industry or global public opinion.

In 1993, China banned the sale of tiger bone and rhino horn, which, in turn, kept poaching low, conservationists say. But it also encouraged the tiger farming trade. The largest farm, Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village competes with a local state run farm. There are 5,000 to 6,000 tigers in captivity in China alone, compared to the 3,000 to 4,000 in the wild.

Via The Washington Post

Lead image via Shutterstock, others via Arun Keerthi K. Barboza and catlovers, Flickr Creative Commons