Photo via Matt Reinbold

Only a century ago, there were 100,000 tigers roaming wild on the earth. Today, that number has dropped to a miserable figure of 3,200. In fact, today there are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild.

It’s estimated that between 5,000 to 6,000 tigers are being farmed in China. Their bones are steeped in alcohol to make tiger bone wine, their skins are turned into rugs for China’s richest citizens, and their meat is sold for food.

The trade, which is officially sanctioned by the Chinese government, has been critiqued by international conservation experts who argue that it poses a risk to the world’s remaining wild tigers. The logic is that the increased demand for tiger’s pelts and bones works to strengthen the incentive to poach wild tigers because illegal pelt’s and tiger bone wine are estimated to be 50 – 300 times cheaper their captive alternatives.

55lb of bones (the approximate amount from a single tiger) can be worth up to $425,000CAD, and a bottle of tiger bone wine can sell for up to $350CAD per bottle.

While the practice of including tiger bones in medicine was banned in China in 1993, the tiger farms, and accompanying tiger wine and pelts, have yet to be banned. Instead, many affluent Chinese are feeding into the growing billion dollar industry. One Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigator stated that they found evidence that tiger bone wine was “a popular gift for winning favor from government officials.”

In an interview with E360, Judith Mills author of The Blood Of The Tiger, states that it wasn’t until recently that the conservationists realized that the 1993 ban on tiger bones in Chinese medicine did not supersede China’s 1980s wildlife protection laws which allowed for the practice of tiger farming.

In 1994, I noticed the number of tigers on farms was actually increasing. And today there are 5,000 to 6,000 tigers on farms in China; some of them with active wineries. What we didn’t understand until very recently is that ban in 1993 did not supersede China’s wildlife protection law, which was crafted in the 1980s and actually mandates the farming and consumption of tigers and other endangered species.”

Some of these tiger farms have actual active wineries on site.

Mills believes that the tiger farms are being actively promoted by The State Forestry Administration, making it difficult for conservationists to get their message heard by the Chinese government, who would likewise have a hand in the arrangement.

She further elaborates stating:

“I don’t know whether officials who are promoting tiger farming are doing it out of allegiance to the wildlife protection laws mandate or if they themselves have some vested interest. I will say that they certainly protect tiger farming with a great deal of vehemence.”

The tigers are bred like cattle, in battery farm conditions similar to those we frequently see cows, chickens and pigs in. Cubs and their mothers are torn apart immediately to force repetitive breeding, and the usually solitary males operate in herds.

However, there is good news. Mills states that there are signs that rising vocal opposition to the farms are beginning to take shape within China itself – without Western backing. Her hopes are that if powerful celebrities, bankers, government officials and the likes speak out about the trade and ask for others to stop the buying of tiger bone wine and pelts, that the farms will cease to profit and thus – hopefully – shut down.

What are your thoughts on tiger farms? Many argue that Western cultures are forcing their ideals on the Chinese government, while others see the inside-opposition as a sign that the Chinese people are not in favor of the practice. Let us know what you think!