By Gwynn Guilford
In August, a Chinese zoo became the laughing stock of the internet after it tried to pass off an unusually fluffy dog as an African lion. The zoo may never have had a real lion. Or perhaps it did at one point, and then decided to sell it to a taxidermist for some extra cash. That’s the subject of a recent expose by Southern Weekend (SW), an investigative newspaper: Surging demand for luxury home decor is encouraging zoos to kill their exhibits and sell their pelts to state-licensed taxidermy firms, reports SW, via China Dialogue.
+ Siberian tigers, for example, fetch around 3 million yuan ($490,000), earning the taxidermist up to 2.65 million yuan in profit. Even though there are only 360 Siberian tigers left on the planet, each step of this trade is technically legal.
+ Here’s how it works: The government lets zoos buy and sell wild animals at fixed prices. But only under what the report called “extraordinary circumstances” do zoos bear responsibility if an animal dies. That has given rise to the roaring trade in stuffed carcasses and luxury rugs made of the skins of rare and endangered species; at least 80% of animals that enter the taxidermy market come from zoos.
+ Stuffed animals have become particularly popular with businesspeople and government officials, thanks to the government’s ongoing crackdown on more conventional luxury gift-giving. Tigers, deer, monkeys and elephants are especially popular gifts because of their symbolic value. That might explain why there’s been a big uptick in “natural death and loss” of animals in Chinese zoos, as SW reports.
+ “Zoos are the most important part of the chain,” the head of one taxidermy firm told Southern Weekend. “The official price for a live tiger is sometimes less than 20,000 or 30,000 yuan. If you can have it die a ‘natural death,’ [zoos\ can make a lot more money.” More....