Monday, February 15, 2010

26. The Year of the Tiger

February 14 is the beginning of the Chinese New Year: the Year of the Tiger. But with 1.1 billion Chinese, only 20 tigers are still living in the wild in China. In India, the tiger population is larger, about 1,400. However, this is half as many as a decade ago and 100 years ago there were about 100,000 tigers in the Indian subcontinent.

The world population has tripled in the past hundred years, with Bangladesh, China, India, and Pakistan accounting for 41% of present day population. Overpopulation has put pressure on the wildlife habitat. At the same time, Chinese economic growth combined with traditional belief in medicinal property of tiger parts has increased incentive for poachers to kill the tiger for a cash prize.

In traditional Chinese medicine tiger bones suppose to help arthritis and serves as aphrodisiac. Tiger skin is part of the trophies of the Chinese newly rich. Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times reports that with pelts are selling for $20,000 and a paw selling for $1,000, “the value of a dead tiger has never been higher.”

Under international pressure, the Chinese government formally banned trade in tiger parts. But tiger farms, where tigers are raised for their part, are still operated in China. Jacobs’s reports that in the Xiongsen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village in Guilin, the gift shop offers alcohol based bone rich liquor that sells for $132 a bottle. The owner claims, “it reduces joint stiffness, treat rheumatism and increase sexual vigor.”

Opened in 1993 with financing from the State Forestry Administration, Xiongsen is the country’s largest tiger farm with 1,500 cats roaming a tree less, fenced area. The less luck ones are placed in small cages where they pace back and forth. There are other animals there as well. Capuchin monkeys are kept in cages to feed the tigers or for medical experiments. There are also about 300 Asiatic brown bears kept for their prized bile that suppose to improve the eye sight.

For $12 a visitor will see tiger shows, cats jumping through rings of fire or balance on balls. For larger crowd, they have special treats—throwing a bull and a tiger in an enclosure together with the gruesome results. Until about two years ago (before they got bad press), they served tiger steaks. There are 20 tiger farms in China.

When will the real Year of the Tiger arrive?

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