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Stop Plundering Of Tigers In The Wildlife Park In Southwest China

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Tigers die slowly of neglect. In row after row of foul, cramped cages, more tigers lie alone, crippled and dying. One is hunched up against the side of its cage with its neck grotesquely deformed. Another, blinded in one eye, lies motionless.

This shabby, rundown park in Guilin - one of China's main tourist cities - is home to the world's biggest single collection of tigers. Yet it is never included on foreigners' tour itineraries.

For here, 1,500 captive tigers - around half as many as there are thought to be remaining in the wild - live out miserable lives in squalid conditions.

Each tiger costs around £6 a day to feed, and it is easy to see that the small clusters of visitors paying £7.50 each to wander around the cages and watch bizarre animal shows cannot possibly cover even the cost of food for the vast park.

The reason is the tigers, mostly Siberian, are far more valuable dead than alive.

For a 55lb pile of bones from a single tiger can be worth up to £225,000. There is a hugely lucrative trade in the skeletons at the Guilin park.

Dead tigers are driven 200 miles from the park, officially called the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village, to a huge subterranean complex where their fur is stripped from their carcasses and their bones collected to make tiger wine that can sell for £185 a bottle.

So for the park, where the tigers are bred for their bones, every year is the Year of the Tiger, and conservationists fear that the vile trade could be helping push some species of wild big cat into extinction.

On paper, China has signed international wildlife treaties that ban all trade in tiger body parts and claims to have outlawed the industry.

In reality, Xiongshen and other parks like it operate in a grey area of the law, using the bones of animals that have died naturally in captivity to produce 'medicinal' wine, apparently with the government's blessing.

Tigers have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries. Their eyeballs are used to treat epilepsy, their bile to stop convulsions, their whiskers to sooth toothache and their penises as a potent sexual tonic.

The most valuable parts, however, are the bones, which are used to make wine that is said to cure rheumatism and arthritis, and prolong life.

Despite its rapid modernisation, the use of traditional medicine in China has increased rather than declined because more people can afford exotic treatments.

History has been cruel to the big cat in China. Aside from the threat of hunting, there has been urbanisation, and the bizarre 1959 decision by Chairman Mao to declare the tiger 'an enemy of the people'.

Half a century later, as the trade in tiger bones puts a huge price on the head of the remaining few wild Chinese tigers, Ms Robinson and other conservationists believe the fate of the tiger in China is sealed.

'By the next Year of the Tiger [2022] China will not have any wild tigers left,' she said. 'I wonder how proud the people involved in this trade will be when they have to explain to their children what happened to the wild tigers.'


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