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Circle of suffering: Traditional Asian Medicine products fuelling booming lion and tiger trade

July 24, 2019 Responsible Tourism No Comments Email Email

Thousands of big cats, mostly lions and tigers, are farmed and killed every year for their body parts to meet the demand for traditional Asian medicine products, according new research from World Animal Protection.

While tiger bone wine and traditional medicine are popular in Asia, they have no proven medical benefits, and this study highlights the grave danger that wild animals face as a result.

Big cats, mainly lion cubs, are born and bred into a circle of suffering on farms in South Africa. As cubs they start their lives on petting farms, then once juveniles, they are used for ‘walking with lions’ experiences.

From there, things take a deadly turn as the lions 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 bone products, where they are processed into medicines and wines.

Big cat cruelty is big business in South Africa with between 6.000 – 8,000 lions and 280 tigers reportedly housed across 200 facilities in South Africa. Harrowing evidence documents the suffering that these incredible animals are subjected to, caged in tiny enclosures resembling industrial factory farms.

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 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. Lions and tigers are majestic apex predators – they are not playthings – nor are they medicine. Big cats are wild animals and they deserve a life worth living.”

At one end of the supply chain, the Trading Cruelty research shows worrying attitudes towards these big cat 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.

While the consumer attitudes research shows some worrying trends, there are also some promising results. It shows that between 60-70% of Vietnamese and Chinese respondents said they would stop buying big cat products, if they knew there were issues surrounding authenticity, conservation, welfare or legalities.

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 is urging travellers not to visit or support captive lion or tiger cub activities, and is working to shift demand away from big cat products and towards humane, sustainable and viable herbal alternatives.

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