Tiger trade and captive breeding farms

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s (DSWF) position on the trade of tiger parts and captive breeding farms.

In the last 100 years, tigers have lost 96% of their historical range with population numbers estimated at fewer than 3,800 still remaining in the wild. The increasing demand for tiger skins and derivatives has pushed this iconic species to the brink of extinction.

The staggering growth of human populations throughout tiger range states has exacerbated the crisis. Captive breeding farms, whose tiger populations now surpass their wild counterparts, have been established to try and satisfy the growing demand.

However, the creation of these farms has failed to alleviate poaching pressures and merely encouraged demand for wild poached tiger parts as a premium product. As a result of increased availability and access to tiger parts and derivatives, a new consumer market has formed and further stimulated demand.

Furthermore, the high costs of breeding farms alongside the perception that wild tigers are purer make them even more desirable to consumers over their captive counterparts.

As a result, DSWF actively campaigns and works to support:

  • A total ban on the international trade in tiger parts and derivatives
  • The closure of all tiger breeding farms
  • The legal market for captive tiger parts makes differentiating their source impossible. The system also provides a perfect guise to launder illegally sourced products and complicates an already hard-to-monitor system.
  • The recent demand in lion bones as an alternative to tiger bones further emphasises the dire trajectory that tigers are on towards extinction.
  • When it is illegal to trade tiger parts, the issue is simply one of law enforcement. An uncontrolled and poorly regulated legal market becomes a social, political, and economic nightmare. One that is impossible to monitor!

What are tiger parts used for?

For hundreds of years tiger parts and derivatives have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicines for the belief they cure disease and replenish the body’s essential energy. The use of tiger parts for medicinal purposes is associated with wealth and as a status symbol to retain Chinese culture and customs. Demand for luxury items has also spiked and their skins are often turned into rugs which fetch high prices with consumers.

Do breeding farms reduce incentives to poaching wild tigers? 

It was thought, sadly naively, that the creation of captive breeding farms would reduce poaching pressures on wild tigers. 

By creating a managed and harvested resource to satisfy consumer demand, the justification that there would be no further impacts on wild tiger populations was part of the validation for establishment.

However, the sad reality is that captive breeding farms have failed to alleviate poaching pressures but, on the contrary, stimulated them.

Wild tigers are still perceived to be purer and more powerful and due to the high costs of breeding farms, wild tigers remain cheaper on the black market for purchase despite being sold on to consumers for a higher price.

What are the main threats that captive breeding farms pose to wild tigers?

Captive breeding farms offer a perfect guise for illegally poached wild tigers to be laundered into the legal market. With lax law enforcement breeding farms complicate an already hard to monitor system and create large hurdles for conservation efforts.

With a parallel legal market, the issues surrounding the trade of tigers become social, political and economic. With a total ban of all trade, the issue would simply be one of law enforcement and demand reduction and can be much more easily monitored.

Captive breeding farms also encourage the belief that tiger parts and derivatives hold medicinal value and perpetuate the trade rather than endorse the stigma that tigers are not to be bred for consumption or trophies.

What is currently legal and illegal? 

The legalities of tiger trade are intermittent at best and although world governments have voiced concern, tiger trade from captive breeding facilities is still legal in China.

From 1990 to 1993, Chinese demand for tiger bone led to a rapid increase in poaching in India and Nepal. As a result, China banned the domestic trade of tiger bone in 1994 with the support of world governments who agreed to ban the domestic trade the following year. It looked positive for tigers!

However, in 2004 a note from the Chinese State Forestry Commission allowed a tiger farm to sell ‘bone strengthening wine’ contradicting China’s ban.

In 2007, 5,000 tigers in captive breeding farms were recorded in China, more than the total world population of wild tigers.

Later that year, world governments agreed to phase out tiger farms as a result of the negative impacts they have on wild tiger populations.

Nonetheless, China’s State Forestry Administration allowed the trade of tiger skins and tiger bones from captive breeding facilities to continue.

From 2012-2017, the DSWF supported organisation Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed the commercial trade of tiger skins in China, which were being sold without authorisation from the State Forestry Administration. Chinese law continues to allow commercial trade in tiger parts today, which is exacerbating their trajectory towards extinction.

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