By Kim Geisler, Scientist and Director of Administration
Traditional Chinese medicine, which is practiced throughout and beyond Asia, uses many parts of tigers in cures for complaints as trivial as laziness, baldness and low libido (using tiger penis), among more serious conditions.
Tiger hunting is illegal in all nations on earth. In 1993, China banned the use of tiger parts for medicines. However, tiger populations throughout Asia are declining as fast, or, some researchers think, even faster, than before the ban because of a huge increase in poaching for the rampant black market.
All tiger groups (some considered subspecies, but taxonomy varies) are classified as endangered, or critically endangered by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The Amur (or Siberian) tiger, Bengal tiger, Indochinese tiger and Malayan tiger are classified as endangered. Several of these groups, with estimated populations of less than 250 to 500 individuals in the wild, will probably soon be reclassified as critically endangered, and indeed are already considered so by some researchers and conservation groups.
The South China tiger and the Sumatran tiger are classified as critically endangered. The South China tiger was hunted to extinction in the wild from an estimated population of 4,000 in 1950. There remains a tiny (less than 50), worldwide zoo population, which might not be adequate to save this subspecies. Three tiger species, the Bali tiger, the Caspian tiger and the Javan tiger, are already extinct.
Poaching of the endangered Snow Leopard has also been accelerating rapidly because of the use of its body parts as a substitute for those of its close relative, the tiger.
To circumvent the law and avoid detection, the most common cure sold is tiger bone pulverized and dissolved in wine (marketed as “bone-strengthening wine”). Alternatively, the product may falsely list "lion bone" as an ingredient; it is understood by the purchasers that this is really tiger bone. Therefore, it is difficult for authorities to monitor the use of tiger parts, as DNA testing of each product lot is required.
The poaching of tigers (as well as snow leopards and other species), is done mostly by organized crime syndicates in India, the Himalayan countries and Russia. Also, small farmers and grazers who have inadequate income to support their families often participate in poaching these wild cats. The black market price of up to $50,000 per individual cat is simply too tempting for the poor to resist.
Essentially all of the tiger body parts are sold at high prices, including the pelts, which have continued popularity throughout Asia. A difficult-to-counter factor is the high social prestige associated with using illegal and expensive tiger cures. Their use is viewed with envy and admiration, rather than repulsion, among many cultures.
These wild cats are beautiful, intelligent, mysterious and full of grace and power. Aside from the worldwide human distress of losing such species, such loss poses serious threats to the delicate balance of ecosystems throughout these animals’ ranges. These large cats are the apex predators of their environments and play critical roles in providing food for other species, keeping ungulate populations healthy and many other functions to maintain thriving, diverse ecosystems.
A CrowdRise funding event is in progress to raise funding for conservation of these magnificent animals. To help, or for more information, click here!