At Xiongsen Tiger Park, near Guilin in south-east China, is a typically depressing zoo where tourists can watch tigers roam freely and be fed. That’s where similarity with other zoos ends.
This theme park features its own Restaurant with – you guessed it – tiger on the menu. Why not try stir-fried tiger with ginger? Tiger soup? Tender strips of red curry tiger and vegetables? Then wash it down with wine aged in Siberian tiger bones. Make you strong hard, mistah sir. Cheep cheap.
Logically, there is no reason to tut-tut the abuse of tigers as somehow morally more reprehensible than similar abuse of chickens, pigs, or any other animal. It's just that some species of wild tigers are endangered, nay, genuinely close to extinction. Personally, I like most westerners shrink from eating any carnivorous animal from the top end of the food chain. However, many people around the world do eat shark, tigers, snakes, or dogs and cats, and we shouldn't be too surprised.
A typical Chinese ‘herbal’ medicine market in Hong Kong. There are big profits to be made, particularly from exploiting male pride.
Breeding carries on apace, ensuring supply meets demand. Ain’t market economics grand? Some specialty tigers are more expensive such as the Siberian or White Tiger. There are fewer than 100 left in the world, so at that rate this stunner at Thailand’s Dusit Zoo rates celebrity status:
Pampered puss in Thailand: tasty ice-block on a hot day.
Not quite so in China, methinks. Whereas breeding programs are strictly controlled in most places, China does whatever turns a buck fastest. (For a communist nation, ironically, they are the champions of unfettered free enterprise.) If two closely related white tigers mate, there will occasionally be a cub which is not deformed by the unavoidable inbreeding, like this one lucky one:
Knut the polar bear has a new Chinese competitor.
Again, with feline.
This cub will be kept as a working show pony, trained to perform for tourists. The rest, the deformed majority are kept imprisoned permanently out-of-sight in battery cages to grow into adult tigers like this:
Deformed by generations of inbreeding like the British royal family, they end their days skinned and processed into soup, pills, wine, or Tiger Balm ointment.
And oh yes – curries.
In the run-up to the Olympics next year it will be interesting to observe the gaping gulf between the cultures of China and most of its guest nations. Issues such as human rights, press freedom, the trade in human body parts, Copyright, and the treatment of tigers will suddenly be the focus of the world’s cameras. More presently...