China has taken several key steps this year toward rehabilitating its damaged (but unfortunately well-earned) reputation as one of the world's biggest contributors to wildlife trafficking and animal abuse. In January, the national government crushed 6 tons of ivory in symbolic protest of elephant poaching, and just this month China moved to outlaw the consumption of endangered species. But despite these important inroads, there are still several examples of the Chinese government condoning -- or even contributing to -- wildlife abuse.
Recently, investigative reporter Stuart Leavenworth uncovered one of these abuses: Chinese tiger farms, which harm tigers both in captivity and in the wild. As Public Radio International reports, Leavenworth visited several tiger farms, which promote themselves as wildlife parks for tourists but actually fuel a much more sinister industry. "Initially I was appalled by what I saw [when the tigers were fed live chickens]," Leavenworth told PRI. "But then I realize there's a much worse situation going on, and that's that these parks exist to make tiger bone wine."
Tiger bone wine, an ancient potion of sorts, is believed by many Chinese to make the drinker strong and virile, and is still in demand amongst the wealthy or elderly. In order to meet the demand for tiger bones, the government established the farms under the guise of alleviating tiger poaching. But Leavenworth explained how the farms are actually having the opposite effect on wild tiger-hunting. "People who are true connoisseurs want to buy tiger parts, tiger bone wine, from wild tigers," he said. "So this entire trade increases the demand for hunting wild tigers."
The one upside, it seems, is the one mentioned earlier: China has been tending toward animal welfare reform in recent months. But will that be the case for Chinese tigers? Leavenworth didn't seem so sure. "There's discussion of a really comprehensive animal welfare law in China, but these things are happening extremely slowly," he said. "And for wild tigers in China they're probably not happening fast enough."