By J. A. Mills
In 1991, while investigating the industrial farming of bears in China, I visited a fur farm in the country’s remote Northeast corner. I saw mink and other common furbearers along with a handful of tigers who turned out to be the founding breeders in what was the country’s first effort to farm tigers for their bones—for use in medicine.
By 1992, tiger experts declared China’s demand for tiger bone the main driver of tiger poaching, which was skyrocketing throughout the big cat’s Asian range. Then in May 1993, China announced a ban on trade in tiger bone. Conservationists celebrated China’s bold move as the death knell for the demand that was causing wild tiger populations to plummet. They assumed this also meant an end to tiger farming. They were wrong.
In 1994, I noticed the number of tigers on farms climbing rather than falling. That began my twenty-year battle to stop an effort to farm tigers “like cows and pigs,” as one official described it, and reignite consumer demand for tiger parts and products among more than a billion potential consumers. If even a tiny fraction wanted the very best—from the wild—wild tigers could quickly be overwhelmed and lost.
Blood of the Tiger follows me and a small group of daring colleagues as we uncover what lies behind the drive to turn tigers into livestock and stimulate rather than stop the demand for tiger products. What we find is a plot to bank on the extinction of wild tigers—a scheme that has ties to organized crime, government officials, and China’s wealthy elite. There is also an unexpected link to the United States, which has a dirty tiger secret of its own.
10 FACTS ABOUT TIGER FARMING IN CHINA
- Year China banned domestic trade in tiger bone: 1993
- Number of tigers on farms when China banned trade in tiger bone in 1993: Less than 100
- Number of tigers on farms in China now: At least 5,000-6,000
- Number of captive tigers in private hands in the United States: 5,000 or more
- Number of tigers in the wild now: Around 3,000
- Cost to poach a wild tiger in India: As little as $10
- Cost to raise a farmed tiger to adulthood: At least $10 a day
- Primary use for tiger bone in traditional Chinese medicine: To treat arthritis and broken bones
- Year traditional Chinese medicine gave up use of tiger bone as medicine: 1993
- Main use of tiger-bone wine, tiger meat, and tiger skins today: Luxury products and financial investments