Tiger skin had been a best-selling commodity in many parts of the world and tiger bones had been considered an important ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, therefore tigers became endangered. Thus in the second half of last century authorities decided to protect the species, and in 1990ies, an international convention banning trade of tiger and tiger parts came into effect and China signed that convention. Thus in China, hunting and trading of tiger or tiger products are prohibited, and tigers have been bred in artificial conditions. Today, although wild tigers are still rarely seen, captive bred tigers are really booming because of enough supply of food, proper medical care and isolation from natural enemies. Tiger breeding bases are overcrowded with tigers.
However, breeders stumbled into fatal financial difficulties. The bred tigers are kept in bases consuming resources. Zoos are not in need of tigers, tigers make no money for breeders. Tigers are kept properly, but breeders are running out of money. Take the example of private-owned Guilin Bear-Tiger Farmland in Guangxi, one of the two largest tiger breeding bases in China. It started in 1993 with some 30 tigers collected from different populations and now, after innovations in artificial fertility, it now owns some 1200 tigers! The result is, the owner, Mr. Wei-Sen Zhou, went bankrupt, and the Farmland, instead of tigers, is endangered!
All those who insist upon banning commercial utilities of bred tigers are obliged to cover the cost of maintaining the tigers. Otherwise they should shut up. And if the government does not lift the ban, it is the government’s duty to cover the cost. This is no.1 principle in all debates regarding tiger preservation.
Before going further, I’d like to talk a few words about pigs. Pork is the basic meat for most Chinese. Pig population is tremendously big; pigs are by no means endangered species. Even more, from time to time it happened that bred pigs escaped into the wild and became wild boars. Without government policy of protecting pigs, without international convention prohibiting trade of pigs aiming at protecting them, pigs are doing well under captive breeding.
Compared to pigs, tiger breeding is quite a new innovation. Artificial fertility of tigers became practicable only in the end of last century. Before that, to acquire tiger products implied hunting tigers. Prohibiting tiger hunting amounted to prohibiting trade of tiger products. But they are different today! It is now possible to acquire tiger products without hunting wild tigers.
A primary counter-argument against free trade of tiger products is this: to effectively ban poaching, it is still necessary to ban tiger product trade, because otherwise tiger products acquired from poaching will have the opportunity to sell on the market in the name of those acquired from bred tigers.
This doctrine is mistaken both morally and practically. Morally, it is the duty of law-enforcement authorities to ban poaching and trading of wild tiger product. Even if overall ban of trade of tiger products does help banning poaching and trading of wild tiger products, it is still unjustified to do so. Law enforcement authorities are not entitled to deprive the interest of citizens for its own convenience. Isn’t it ridiculous that traffic police bans all the traffic to eliminate traffic accidents? Or F&D authorities ban food trade to eliminate risk of food poison? On the other hand, practically, open trade of bred tiger products will largely reduce the price on the black market, and buyers will have legal accesses to the tiger products. Even if some buyers insist upon purchasing wild tiger products out of some special reasons, open trade of bred tiger products does not reduce their risk. Concerned authorities will be able to watch over the trade to the same extent as before only by requiring a registration list. The illegal trade of tiger skin will be as difficult as before, because all skins from bred tigers are registered; and that of tiger bones will be as easy as before, because it is just as easy to claim wild tiger bones to be bones of other animals as to claim them to be bones of bred tigers.
Finally, let’s have a look at wildlization. Many consider bred tigers as substantially different from wild ones and thus deny breeding tigers will help preserving wild ones. This is a grievous mistake. First of all, bred tigers preserve genes. This is of the utmost importance to tiger preservation. Secondly, wildlization is not as difficult as it appears to be. The science of ethology tells us that tigers have a good ability to learn new skills, and these skills turn into mode of conduct quickly. One example. Tigers usually do not prey human-beings. And if they do so in extreme hunger and manage, preying human-beings becomes mode of conduct easily. This is the reason why murdering tigers must be shot.
The main problem with wilderlization is the lack of a big enough ecological system to support tigers who are on the top of food chain. With the development of new agriculture technology, less and less farmland is required. Large ecological systems are on the horizon. The wilderlization will be able to be practiced step by step easily. Some food is to be laid in the wild to guarantee the survival, and the food will be reduced gradually to compel tigers to learn how to prey. In one word, wilderlization is not going to be an unsolvable problem.
As a matter of fact, I am not very keen of preserving wild tigers. But if wild tigers are to be preserved, it must be done in a correct way, and that is free trade----to sell bred tigers to maintain a big enough population and many enough varieties of gene types. Consumption, and only consumption, will drive tiger preservation into positive circle.
To preserve tigers, let’s consume them. To save tigers, let’s sell them. This is the harmony of Nature and man!