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Factory Farmed Tigers

Written by Danny Penman  
Wednesday, 14 March 2007

By Danny Penman

Guilin , South East China

King the Siberian tiger stares longingly at me through the bars of his cage. His two beautiful and graceful companions pace back and forth across their tiny compound. They look crushingly bored. The most exciting thing they can do is paw mournfully at the dirty pools of rainwater slowly spreading across the floor of their cage.

Although the Xiongsen tiger park near Guilin in south east China appears to be a depressingly typical third world zoo, it actually hides a far more sinister secret: it's a factory farm breeding tigers for the table and to be made into wine.

Visitors to the park can dine on strips of stir-fried tiger with ginger and Chinese vegetables. Also on the menu are tiger soup and a spicy red curry made with tenderised strips of the big cat. 'Discerning' visitors can wash it all down with a glass or two of vintage wine made from the bones of Siberian tigers.

A waitress at the farm's restaurant tells me proudly: "The tiger meat is produced here. It's our business. When Government officials come here we kill a tiger for them so they have fresh meat. Other visitors are given meat from tigers killed in fights. We now have 140 tigers in the freezer.

"We also sell lion meat, bear's paw, crocodile and snake. The bears' paw has to be ordered in advance as it takes a long time to cook."  

The waitress clearly did not care that she was selling meat and wine from endangered species. She was not in the slightest bit worried that selling them is also against Chinese and international law and helps to fuel the poaching that is driving tigers to extinction.   

Tigers and other endangered species are now being reared on an industrial scale in China. The Daily Mail discovered three factory farms breeding tigers in China. The Guilin farm alone has 1300 tigers, including the incredibly rare and elusive Siberian sub-species. It also rears and slaughters Bengal, South China and White tigers. Over 300 African lions and 400 Asiatic black bears were also being reared for food and traditional Chinese medicines.

Chinese bureaucrats have blessed the keeping of all these rare and endangered species, even though it is against their own laws. It is clear that the authorities signed up to international treaties protecting tigers and have no intention of honouring them. Instead, they claim that farms like the one at Guilin are a vital part of the country's conservation efforts and will one day release these endangered creatures back into the wild.    

A walk around the Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain Village, as the farm is officially known, reveals this excuse to be little better than a lie. These animals could never survive in the wild as they have none of the skills essential for survival. These poor creatures were snatched from their mothers when they were three months old and have spent their lives in tiny barren cages. They cannot hunt nor have they learnt the art of hiding from human poachers. They would be dead within days of being released into the wild.

The lions and tigers are reared in battery-style units to maximise production. Each shed (and I saw at least 100) houses between three and five tigers in a space no larger than a typical family living room. In relative terms they have about as much space as a battery hen. They will spend four or five years in the sheds and will almost certainly never be allowed outside to exercise.

Tigers are naturally solitary creatures that roam over dozens of square miles so its hardly surprising that life in the cages drives them insane. I saw numerous examples of endlessly repeating behaviours known as stereotypies, a sure sign of madness. Tigers paced back and forth across their cages for hours on end. Each time they would take three steps forward, turn around and take three steps back. Others hurled themselves helplessly at the bars of their prison cells whilst others stared into space with a glazed depressed look in their eyes.

Madness, stress and over-crowding often drives the creatures to attack each other. Tigers are such powerful beasts that at least one of the tigers is generally killed in such a clash. Officially it is only these that are eaten or turned into wine. And if there should be a shortage of tigers killed in such fights? Well, it's safe to assume that a bullet to a tiger's head will solve that problem.

Although the battery tiger units were thoroughly miserable and depressing places an even more disturbing sight lay around the corner: the "Kindergarden for all Beasts". This contained around 30 tiger cubs, many as young as three months old. They are kept here until they are old enough to be transferred to the battery units.

Many of the youngsters were desperate to escape and kept leaping at the fencing of their cages. The younger ones simply wanted to play like kittens. The older cubs had already learnt that life held no future for them and were showing signs of extreme stress and madness.

Even more horrific was the 'live killing exhibition'. Here live animals were 'hunted' and torn to pieces by tigers whilst onlookers gawped and cheered. I watched in horror as a young cow was stalked and caught by a tiger. Screams and cries filled the air as the tiger ripped and tore into the young animal's body.

A wild tiger would despatch its prey within moments but these tigers' natural killing skills had been blunted by years of living in a battery cage. The tiger was driven to kill but simply didn't know how. All it could manage to do was tear and bite at the cow's body in a pathetic looking frenzy. Eventually the keepers broke up the contest and dispatched the cow, much to the disappointment of the crowd.

Virtually all of the tigers from the Guilin farm end up at a winery 100 miles to the north. Here their carcasses are dumped in huge vats of rice wine and left to rot for up to nine years. The Chinese believe that the tiger's strength passes into the wine as its body decomposes. They also believe that it is a powerful medicine that wards off arthritis, strengthens bones and acts as a general tonic. Smelling like a mixture of methylated spirits, antiseptic and congealed meat, it is difficult to believe that anyone would willingly drink such a brew and yet people are happy to pay up to £100 a pint for it.

The Guilin farm also has a winery and acts as a distribution centre for wine across China.  I managed to gain the confidence of the distribution manager and she showed me and a Chinese tourist around. It was predictably depressing.

A small dingy office acted as the nerve centre of the warehouse. On the wall were charts showing that day's deliveries of tiger wine across China. Six crates were despatched to Wuhan and another to Tianjing. Six crates of 'powdered bear' were sent to Shanghai. Numerous other cities and countless deliveries were also listed.

We were then led into the warehouse where I was hit with the disgusting and potent aroma of tiger wine.  I was led past countless crates containing the foul smelling brew. In the corner of the warehouse was a huge brown earthenware vat. It must have held at least 50 gallons and its contents were probably worth around £12,000.

"We have three ages of wine," said the manager. "Three, six or nine-years' old."

"It helps with arthritis and strengthens old people's bones," she added.

To ram home her sales pitch the manager slid aside the lid of the earthenware vat to reveal a reddish-brown liquid with an overpowering smell of meths. A piece of string was pulled out of the vat. Attached to the end was a tiger's rib cage. Small slivers of dark red flesh could still be seen clinging to the bone, even though it had probably been in the vat for at least three years.

The manager then filled up an old plastic water bottle with a pint of wine and handed it to my fellow tourist. He paid £30 for it.

Whatever westerners think of tiger wine, the Chinese regard it as a potent drink with almost magical qualities. In the past, a Chinese doctor may have prescribed a small amount of the wine for a short period of time. But in recent years big companies have moved into the market and industrialised all parts of the industry.  Now the wine is becoming an essential drink for China's corrupt bureaucrats and the nation's nouveau riche.

Whilst it seems abhorrent to farm tigers is it really any different to producing chicken, pork and beef? Conservationists certainly think so.

 "It's not only cruel and repugnant to farm tigers," says Grace Gabriel, spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "It is also driving them to extinction in the wild. Tiger farming is stimulating demand for meat and wine and this will inevitably lead to more poaching. It costs £5,000 to raise a tiger from a cub to maturity in one of these farms while it costs no more than £20 in India to poach one. On the market a dead tiger can fetch £20,000.  With such a huge profit margin it is inevitable that more people will poach wild tigers if demand increases.

 "There are only a few thousand tigers left in the wild and the last thing they need is increased demand for their body parts."

If present trends continue they could be extinct in the wild within a decade. Three sub-species of tiger have already vanished. Chinese tigers are down to a pitiful 20 animals in the wild and are "functionally extinct". There are only about 450 Siberian tigers left in Russia's Far East. The remaining 3-4,000 are sparsely scattered across India, Nepal and south east Asia.

As tigers become rarer in the wild their "street value" increases, which in turn encourages even more poaching. Tigers have already become extinct in India's most famous reserve at Sariska. Numbers have plunged in several other reserves too. Most of these tigers will have been sold to traders in China. The Chinese authorities do virtually nothing to clamp down on this illegal trade and many corrupt bureaucrats and police earn substantial sums from it.

And demand is continuing to increase as ever more bizarre uses for tigers are promoted or created. Tiger whiskers are used to 'cure' laziness and protect against bullets. Their brains when mixed with oil and rubbed on the skin are promoted as a cure for acne. Penises are used as aphrodisiacs whilst hearts apparently impart courage, cunning and strength.

Tiger farmers also have their eyes on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. They hope that a huge influx of tourists will lead to increased demand for tiger wine. And the Chinese Government is doing its bit to stoke demand. It recently ordered TV presenters in Tibet to wear tiger skins whilst reading the news.        

Although it is currently illegal to trade internationally in such tiger products as wine, the Chinese are lobbying hard to get the law relaxed. This June, the Chinese Government is expected to press the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to allow the trade in 'medicines' such as wine produced from farmed tigers. If agreed it will lead to a massive increase in tiger farming and tens of thousands of these noble beasts will spend their lives in battery cages.

If the Chinese get their way then it will almost certainly drive the tigers over the cliff into extinction. It is almost too late to save the tigers but not quite.

Source: News Monster





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