By Karl Ammann
At the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP16) in Bangkok earlier this year, I attended a press conference where the South African Minister for the Environment announced that South Africa had tried a wide range of measures to curtail rhino poaching, but she confirmed that so far they had failed and it was now time to look at the option of legalizing the trade. This proposal will result in a heated debate for months or years to come. Discussions will be very polarized with neither side willing to make compromises on what they see as core principles.
I have visited several ranches in South Africa and seen happy, live rhinos enjoying what to me looked like a good quality of life. It made for a pretty convincing argument that having a dehorned rhino grazing with its calf is a better option than an orphaned calf trying to suckle on its slaughtered mother.
However, on my last trip to Laos and Vietnam, in October this year, I once again investigated the trade in tiger bone—another traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) product in the same league as rhino horn—and I found a situation that might have relevance when discussing the proposed legalizing of the rhino horn trade.
First, a bit more background on the tiger bone/cake trade, a demand which is most pronounced in Vietnam with tiger wine being the Chinese equivalent.
In 2010 a group of Vietnamese journalists managed to get into one of the biggest tiger farms in Laos. They reported that a tiger carcass was selling for $140 a kilogram. The buyers, usually from China or Vietnam, choose a live tiger and then pay per kilogram after the cat has been shot or electrocuted. Seven to 10 kilograms are deducted from the weight for the intestines. The price in 2010 per kilogram was quoted $140 per kilogram for cats above 100 kilograms, a little less for tigers below that. In October this year, a Swiss print journalist and myself managed to get a Vietnamese investigator to visit the same farm and film with a hidden camera. In 2010 the Vietnamese writers mentioned a stock of 100 tigers. Now the farm has over 300, plus some bears and clouded leopards. The farm is also being expanded to hold about 700 tigers. This will be achieved with breeding and importing other captive borne tigers, mostly from Thailand and Malaysia. Plus there are new such farms being set up. All of this is illegal under CITES resolution (14.69) passed in 2012 and stating:
“Parties (to the convention) with intensive operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale shall implement measures to restrict captive populations to a level supportive ONLY FOR CONSERVING WILD TIGERS. Tigers should not be bred for their parts or derivate.”
There has never been a valid explanation how tiger farming in any form will support the conservation of wild tigers since they cannot be reintroduced into the wild. Commercial captive breeding might be viewed as having the potential to satisfy demand and bring down prices of tiger parts and as such taking the pressure of the wild populations, however that seems not to be what is advocated with the above notification. More....