By Brian K. Weirum
[Written in 1995 and sadly
still relevant today]
The tiger is on the verge of
extinction and international awareness and concern must be mobilized. The hard work, optimism, and complacency
generated by two decades of effort to save the tiger in South Asia- must now be
urgently re-examined. The great wildlife
reserves of India and Nepal, are becoming, in effect, shopping malls to satisfy
a market based on ancient Chinese medicinal customs and practices. Tiger bones are the main target, but other
body parts and other animals, such as the rhino, leopard and bear- are also
The Royal Bengal tiger, found in
India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Western Burma, is now being vigorously
hunted because the indigenous tigers closest to the ‘market’ countries are too
scarce for the demand. Dr. Charles
McDougal, resident tiger expert in Nepal, reports a l993 survey of one tiger
population which showed 40% losses between l989-l992. "Tigers are being killed faster than
they can be replaced," concluded McDougal.
Tiger bones have been found at the
airport in New Delhi; tiger cubs have been found smuggled into Bangkok enroute
to Taiwan; bags of tiger bones have been found at remote post offices in the
Humla District of Nepal near the Tibetan border; incidents of bartering of tiger bones for
Tibetan Antelope (shahtoosh) have led to arrests in the Tibetan town of
Taklakot; and in 1995 live leopards were
found in a warehouse in Kathmandu destined for Tibet and on to China for captive
breeding purposes. Nepal clearly sits on
the smuggling path to extinction.
The years between l988 and l992 saw
a slaughter of tigers in the forests and jungles of Asia so dramatic that their
extinction is now a possibility. The
tiger experts of the world suddenly shook their collective heads and
asked.."Where have all the tigers gone?" Peter Jackson, Chairman of
the CAT Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN) writes.."My belief is that the end of the tiger is in sight,
possibly within ten
years." [thankfully this has proven not to be true]
paper entitled “Chinese Tiger Bone Medicine” presented in l992 at a 'status of
the tiger' conference in India by Lui Xin Chen concluded that "animal
products have been central to Chinese medical systems for thousands of
years. Belief in the efficacy of animal
based drugs is so deeply ingrained that it appears very difficult to eradicate,
certainly within the time span available for saving the tiger, bear, or other
targeted animals. Because of its
position in the culture and its treatment effects, it would be unacceptable to
the Chinese people to give up tiger bone medicine."
Unacceptable? Perhaps it is time to dispel some of the
myths of the efficacy of animal based medicines and identify acceptable
alternatives before it is too late for the tiger. If one accepts the argument that beliefs,
customs, and practices cannot be changed merely because they are based on
hundreds of years of tradition- then the elephant and rhino would already be
gone. When the world stood up and said
NO to the extinction of the whale, nations whose economies and cultures were
linked to the whaling industry were forced to take heed. Perhaps it is time for the international
community to do the same for the tiger!
Bone Wine is thought by millions of people to be an elixir of life. To ingest the tiger is to gain its power and
strength. According to Lui Xin Chen’s
paper, there were 24 companies exporting tiger bone medicine from China in 1992. TRAFFIC Japan reports that South Korea
imported 1700 kg. of tiger bones between l985 and l990. TRAFFIC International reported that Taiwan,
in the l980's, imported up to 2000 kg. a year to run a brewery bottling 100,000
bottles of Tiger Bone Wine! Taiwan has
never had a tiger indigenous to its island.
Vietnam remains today a smuggling market mecca for endangered
species. All above examples are clearly
in violation of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species
(CITES). Products from tiger bones are
not limited to wines and tonics but are also marketed as powders, ointments,
plasters and pills. [see Fall 2006
story in CAT News about the Guilin Xiong Sen Tiger and Bear Farm].
beliefs and customs threatening the tiger are not limited to bones. Tiger penis soup is thought to be an
aphrodisiac. Eyeballs rolled into pills
are thought to cure convulsions. Whiskers
are thought to be a protection against bullets.
The tail mixed with soup is believed to cure skin disease. The hair when burnt drives away
centipedes. Sitting on a tiger skin can
prevent fevers caused by evil spirits.
Claws worn as jewelry are said to give courage and protection against
sudden fright. And ribs should be worn
at all times as a good luck talisman.
are many long range problems facing the tiger and other endangered species-
economic development, population pressure, dwindling prey species, loss of
habitat, and the lack of political will of tiger habitat countries. The most immediate threat to the tiger,
however, is poaching to satisfy the market for traditional Chinese medicinal
products and a renewed demand for skins in the Tibetan market.
animal has been graced with a greater aura of power and majesty, both in myth
and reality, than the tiger. Ironically
it is this prodigious mantle of respect that is threatening to lead it down an
inexorable path to extinction. With no proven medicinal value, the strong
belief in the efficacy of tiger medicines may soon lead to the disappearance,
forever, of this magnificent animal from the forests and jungles of Asia.