In demand - Traditional Asian Medicine products fuelling booming big cat trade
World Animal Protection has completed its first ever global multiple country examination of the supply chain feeding the insatiable demand for big cat products, such as tiger bone wine and traditional medicines.
Such products are popular in Asia despite the fact they have no proven medical benefits, and this study highlights the grave danger that animals such as lions and tigers, face as a result.
The charity’s research exposes how big cat farms are harvesting lions in South Africa and tigers in Asia to feed demand, as well as investigating attitudes towards these products from those who consume them.
Harrowing evidence documents the suffering that these incredible animals are subjected to, caged in tiny enclosures resembling industrial factory farms. In Asia, rows of bare and barren battery-style cells house hundreds of tigers as well as lions. In South Africa, lion cubs are seen pacing around crying, and in another image, a motionless lion cub so deformed that it has missing limbs because of inbreeding, can be seen.
At one end of the supply chain, the research shows worrying attitudes towards these products:
In Vietnam, a staggering four out of five consumers of traditional Asian medicine (89%) believe in unproven medical products made from tigers and lions, and a quarter of its population use wildlife products such as ‘big cat plasters’ and ‘tiger bone wine’
Of those that consume these products in Vietnam, almost nine out of 10 people (84%) prefer big cat products from animals caught in the wild rather than farmed
In China, more than two out of five people (40%) surveyed had used drugs or health products containing big cat products
Over half (55%) of Chinese consumers preferred their big cat products to be sourced from the wild, with 72% claiming it’s because wild products are more potent than farmed
This highlights that big cat farming is fuelling a demand that also drives poaching of protected wild big cats, such as leopards, tigers, jaguars and lions – all in the name of traditional Asian medicine.
At ranches in South Africa, big cats, mainly lion cubs, are born into a life of exploitation. Some are snatched from their mothers in the wild, and many are born at breeding facilities. They start their lives on petting farms, then once juveniles, they are used for ‘walking with lions’ experiences. Their lives then take a deadly turn as they are moved to game farms for canned hunting. Skins and heads are taken as trophies, and bones are legally exported through the skeleton quota – unique to South Arica. The bones are exported to Asia to supplement the illegal trade of tiger bone products, where they are processed into medicines and wines.
In China, huge, industrial-style big cat farms have row upon row of tiny cells, each housing a miserable big cat. These facilities provide only the minimum needs for the cats to survive, such as food and water and many documented were emaciated. In addition, numerous entertainment venues offer opportunities to see tigers perform in shows and have pictures taken with them. At some of these venues, you can also purchase tiger products.
Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Global Wildlife Advisor at World Animal Protection, said:
“Does the life of an animal mean nothing at all? These big cats are exploited for greed and money - and for what? For medicine that’s never been proven to have any curative properties whatsoever. For that reason alone, it’s an unacceptable. But given that at each stage of their lives they suffer immensely – this makes it an absolute outrage.
“Many of these animals will only ever see the world through metal bars, they will only ever feel hard concrete beneath their paws, and they will never get to experience their most basic predatory instinct – a hunt. Instead, they are taken away from their mothers as tiny cubs, forced to interact with people or perform tricks, to be then shot or slaughtered so that their bodies can be harvested for products.
“This should not be the life for these incredible animals – either in farms or entertainment venues.
These animals are majestic apex predators – they are not playthings – nor are they medicine. Big cats are wild animals and they deserve a life worth living.”
While the consumer attitudes research shows some worrying trends, there are also some promising results. It shows that 67% of Vietnamese respondents were willing to try herbal or synthetic alternatives to big cat products, with over half (51%), saying that this was dependent on whether it was reasonably priced. Also, 68% of big cat consumers would be willing to try herbal alternatives if they were cheaper. The report outlines viable herbal alternatives that traditional Asian medicine recognises for treatment of conditions that consumers would often buy big cat products for. World Animal Protection urges to shift attitudes and demand away from big cat products and towards humane, sustainable and viable herbal alternatives.
 There has been no scientific evidence that products from big cats have any medical efficacy.
 Plasters which are believed to contain traces of tiger bone, used to give strength and help cure rheumatism.
Read the executive summary here
Read the full report here