There are very few tigers left in the wild, and those that are are being chopped up to use as bribes. Sadly, those two things feed on each other, and it’s simple supply and demand: Wildlife products like tiger pelts and bone paste are seen as exclusive, and the rarer they get, the more people are willing to do to get them. But in the case of tigers, there’s a bit of a twist: wild demand is so low that tigers are being farmed like livestock, a practice that is only helping the market for tiger parts to grow.
I’m not talking about captive-breeding programs done to help ensure genetic variation within the dwindling tiger population, or breeding for reintroduction. Illegal tiger farms in Southeast Asia involve keeping tigers stuffed in tiny cages, like the six found in September on a roof in Singapore, only to be let out to perform or be butchered. That doesn’t make for a pretty sight:
In 2007, the member countries of the UN’s CITES treaty voted that tigers shouldn’t be bred on farms for parts. But farms are still prevalent in China, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, four hotspots for illegal wildlife trafficking. As the EIA notes in the video below, tiger farms are a problem not just because tigers are being bred for butchering. It’s an issue because it’s keeping the illegal tiger market alive.
Tiger pelts and other parts are seen as a luxury good, and if some people have access to them, it just makes them that much more desirable for those that don’t. (Remember how badly you wanted that kid’s Gameboy when you were 10?) Tigers aren’t chickens; they’re so rare that supply, farms or not, could never keep up with demand, especially when people are willing to pay astronomical prices for them.
The only hope for tigers is that, by protecting those in the wild (which isn’t going so well this year), and eliminating the supply of tiger parts, demand will plummet as rich people find something else to flaunt their wealth with. But as long as tiger farms keep the market open, that won’t happen.
Top image via the NY Times
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.