[Marxism] China’s Threat to Wild Tigers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jun 29 10:08:34 MDT 2014

NY Times Op-Ed, June 29 2014
China’s Threat to Wild Tigers

EARLIER this year, a police raid on a house party in Leizhou, Guangdong 
Province, in southern China, revealed a decadent diversion apparently 
popular among some of China’s elite: watching a tiger being slaughtered 
and butchered, then gorging on meat that’s considered an exotic delicacy.

Fifteen people were arrested and charged with killing more than 10 
tigers in the past few years. One of them, a real estate developer 
identified as Mr. Xu, pleaded guilty to consuming three tigers in 2013. 
A prosecutor said he had “a quirky appetite for eating tiger penis and 
drinking tiger blood.”

The Nanfang Daily reported that these “visual feasts” had become 
fashionable among wealthy businessmen and government officials. One 
official told China Daily that the privileged staged these dinners “as a 
form of entertainment and to show off their wealth.”

The demise of the tiger, the world’s most endangered big cat, was 
hastened by demand for traditional Chinese medicine, which ascribed 
healing properties to nearly every part of the cat, from whiskers to tail.

But that has changed, says a new report commissioned by the secretariat 
of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which 
regulates that trade under a treaty signed by 180 nations.

“ ‘Wealth’ [is] replacing ‘health’ as a primary form of consumer 
motivation,” the report says. Tiger parts “are now consumed less as 
medicine and more as exotic luxury products.”

This demand is about prestige and money. The cats’ magnificent pelts are 
among the most sought-after items (displayed as luxury home décor), 
along with “bone-strengthening wine” (an exorbitantly costly elixir made 
by steeping a tiger skeleton in rice wine).

It’s a deadly commerce fueled by China’s commercial captive breeding 
farms, which hold more than 5,000 tigers and maintain stockpiles of 
frozen carcasses and body parts. These farms spur poaching of wild 
tigers by perpetuating the market in tiger parts.

China figures prominently in this illegal commerce and will be a focus 
as convention representatives meet in Geneva next month to discuss ways 
to stop the trade in tigers and other big Asian cats.

When Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Jungle Book” at the turn of the 20th 
century, about 100,000 wild tigers roamed the Asian continent. Today, 
perhaps 3,200 remain scattered across 13 countries, wiped out by trophy 
hunts in India, the 1960s fashion craze for fur in the United States and 
Europe, disappearing habitat, conflict with people and poaching.

Tigers command a small fortune on the black market, and demand is 
rising. A loophole in the country’s wildlife protection law allows the 
breeding and “utilization” of certain products derived from captive-bred 
endangered species. This has made industrial-scale “tiger farming” big 
business. The number of captive tigers skyrocketed from about 85 in 1993 
to 5,000-plus today. (Vietnam, Laos and Thailand also breed tigers, but 
on a much smaller scale.) Farming continues despite a 2007 decision by 
the convention that “tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts 
and derivatives.”

In 2010, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, the bleak conditions in China’s 
commercial breeding facilities came under scrutiny from conservation 
groups and the media. Gruesome images documented tigers crammed into 
cramped, decrepit, concrete enclosures. Many were emaciated, reduced to 
striped bags of bones. Some were deformed by inbreeding.

Little seems to have changed since then.

Some farms are run as animal parks, where the few healthy animals 
perform before cheering tourists. The rest are hidden from public view. 
Though these parks are thinly disguised as educational or conservation 
initiatives, they in no way help the species. A captive tiger has never 
been successfully released into the wild.

The two largest breeding outfits (which more than 1,000 tigers each) 
were begun with start-up financing from the State Forestry 
Administration, an agency with contradictory roles: protecting wildlife 
while also overseeing and promoting intensive tiger farming.

While breeding is legal in China, the sale of tiger parts is not. Skins 
from captive animals are exempt if they have forestry administration 
permits, supposedly issued for educational or scientific purposes.

But undercover operatives working for the Environmental Investigation 
Agency, a London-based group focused on exposing environmental crime, 
found the licensing process rife with improprieties.

In 2012, they encountered taxidermists preparing skins for private 
customers using forestry administration permits. Those documents seemed 
to be regularly reused — making it easy to launder skins from illicit 
sources — and investigators were also offered skins lacking any paperwork.

Little is known about the scale and oversight of this market. But the 
convention’s report says that China allows “internal trading privileges” 
for companies dealing in tiger skins and body parts “produced mainly but 
not exclusively from captive breeding.”

The report also said that tiger parts amassed by breeding farms were 
finding their way into the market. “Given the increasing detection of 
frozen carcasses in illegal trade... as well as the continued production 
in China of wine suggestively marketed as containing tiger, it appears 
that government oversight of privately held stocks may not be sufficient 
to guarantee their security,” the report said.

But public opinion in China is slowly turning against this “utilization” 
of wildlife, especially among younger generations. Public service 
announcements, billboards and social media campaigns have helped. The 
film stars Jackie Chan and Jiang Wen appear in ads saying, “When the 
buying stops, the killing can, too.”

An outcry over wildlife consumption by the wealthy led China’s 
legislature to stipulate this spring that those who ate or bought 
endangered species could face 10 years in prison. But it’s unclear 
whether caged tigers are considered endangered under these rules.

Because the scope of China’s trade in tiger products remains so murky, 
other nations must demand answers and accountability from China at the 
convention’s meeting next month.

We need to know, for instance, whether and how deeply government 
officials are involved in the black market and whether China is tacitly 
allowing the domestic sale of tiger products. It’s an embarrassing list 
of questions for President Xi Jinping, who has made rooting out 
corruption a top priority.

Wild tigers are on life support. The world must persuade China to phase 
out its tiger farms, end all commerce in tigers and commit to 
cooperative international conservation and enforcement efforts. If not, 
the largest of the world’s cats will not survive.

Sharon Guynup is a journalist and the co-author, with the photographer 
Steve Winter, of “Tigers Forever: Saving the World’s Most Endangered Big 

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