As the world reels under coronavirus, criminal wildlife* traders continue to cash in on the crisis – including touting tiger bone “glue” to maintain health during the pandemic.
EIA’s investigators have already exposed illegal wildlife traders operating online and promoting fake cures containing rhino horn and other parts and products of endangered species to treat the virus (aka COVID-19).
This Vietnamese trader is offering his homemade tiger bone “glue” via his social media account, complete with images and harrowing video footage of a tiger being butchered and the bones being boiled down.
His post reads: From the haunting pandemic, we recognise the two most important things in life, family and health.
Invest in health while you can!
Money will not buy health, but with money, health will certainly improve.
He’s one of potentially more than 100 tiger keepers and butchers in Vietnam who raise tiger cubs that have been trafficked from captive breeding facilities in Thailand and Laos.
They keep them until they are mature and fattened up and then slaughter them to order for buyers from Vietnam and China. The tiger’s bones are boiled down into a glue-like substance with other ingredients to be taken in tea or wine as a tonic.
The teeth, claws and skins are sold as luxury ornamental and decorative items. Some of these criminals also offer bear gall bladder, pangolin scales and rhino horn for sale.
According to traders in Vietnam, there are hundreds of tigers in illegal backyard and basement facilities, with one or two tigers per household, predominantly in Nghe An Province.
In the wake of the coronavirus and in response to an appeal from Vietnamese organisations urging the Government to take action against wildlife trade to prevent future disease outbreaks, the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has issued a decree directing agencies to take more stringent enforcement action.
It remains to be seen if the tiger farmers and butchers who have been able to operate for years will finally face the law and justice.
The required response should not be limited to enforcement. The trade reflects the unnecessary demand and commodification of tigers and other threatened species. If ever there was a time to rethink our relationship with nature, it is now, in the midst of the biggest ever wake-up call.
The coronavirus is symptomatic of our biodiversity and climate crises – a pandemic of our own making. Specialists in the spread of zoonotic diseases (those arising from wildlife) that risk turning into pandemics have been raising the alarm for years. They warned that the more we destroy nature by chopping down forests for timber, mines, intensive agriculture and by capturing, farming and killing wildlife, the more we create interfaces and chances for the spill-over of viruses and bacteria that have severe human health impacts; historically, SARS, Ebola, MERS, HIV, bovine tuberculosis, rabies and leptospirosis to name just a few.
Will we – civil society, government, business – learn any lessons this time round? Will we re-evaluate what is important? Will we be innovative and find solutions to the current drivers of destruction? Or will we see a return to business as normal after the medical crises that are sweeping across the planet abate? Surely that would be unforgivable?
To avoid a future pandemic we need transformative change, restoring the health of the planet and the ecosystems we depend on. Beyond combating illegal trade in wildlife, we need to take a far more precautionary approach. We must work towards ending commercial wildlife trade and commercial farming of wildlife, where we cannot guarantee that it won’t be harmful to biodiversity or human health. We also need to restore habitats, create alternative livelihoods and rethink food production. We need new alliances that cross multiple disciplines – conservation, human health, agro-forestry, business – coalescing round a new world vision.
* In this blog, we are not referring to wildlife in the context of plants, fungi or seafood. We are primarily concerned with the commercial trade in threatened mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.