Tiger farming

Tiger farming is a major driver in stimulating consumer demand and perpetuating the illegal trade in tiger skins, teeth, bones, claws and meat from tigers and other Asian big cats. This is despite a crucial decision from the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2007 stipulating that tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives and that tiger farms should be phased out.

中文版本 (Chinese version)

The problem

The demand for tiger skins, teeth, bones, claws and meat is perpetuated by the legal and illegal supply of parts from captive tigers. There are more than 8,000 captive tigers in China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and South Africa. Facilities range from small backyard holdings to circuses, from collections masquerading as zoos to battery farming-style operations holding more than a thousand tigers.

The preference among many consumers for authentic wild specimens means that wild tigers and other big cats are still poached. Governments should have phased out these tiger ‘farms’ following an international agreement in 2007; instead, the problem has escalated.

The number of captive tiger facilities in tiger farming countries has increased and, while a minimum estimated 41 per cent of tigers seized from illegal trade since 2010 are suspected to have come from captive sources, it has not relieved pressure on wild tigers, with populations being wiped out in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam since 2010.

Many of the individuals and networks engaging in captive tiger trade are also involved in other illegal activities such as trade in ivory, pangolins and rhino horn as well as other organised crime.

  • 2001

    Our first report on Tiger farming in Thailand

    raised the alarm of this growing issue
  • 2007

    We helped secure a decision at CITES that

    Tigers should not be bred for sale
  • Our investigations

    Our undercover work and campaigning has

    countered the pro-Tiger farming advocates

Moving forward

Under a project funded by the UK Government through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, we and partners Education for Nature Vietnam and Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand have been investigating the shadowy figures behind tiger trade and farming between Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China, some of whom are involved in global illegal wildlife trade.

We share information with enforcement agencies to facilitate their own operations. We also continue to apply pressure through CITES on the five tiger farming countries of concern.

Under threat of CITES trade suspensions, Laos is conducting an audit of tiger farms as a first step towards a phase-out plan. We succeeded in ensuring the facilities at the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone and Laksao were added to the itinerary, but the criminal enterprises involved continue to breed and trade tigers. We will work with other NGOs and experts in running genuine sanctuaries to urge Laos to reconsider the conversion of the farms to amusement parks providing a smokescreen for ongoing trade.

A special review process under CITES, which includes formal missions to countries with captive tiger facilities of concern, was supposed to happen before October 2018 but has been delayed. We will be expecting CITES Parties to call for time-bound, country-specific actions to end tiger farming and trade at the next meeting in October 2020. We and our partners will be there to push for tangible action to stop further breeding, conduct full audits of captive tigers, develop phase-out plans, destroy stockpiles of tiger parts and send a clear message that trade in tiger parts – indeed, in any big cat parts – will not be tolerated.

Tiger farming in China

We will continue to call for an end to tiger farming and to all trade in tiger parts and products in China. You can help.

Write to your elected representative, and ask them to urge your Prime Minister or President to call upon President Xi to phase out tiger farms and end all trade the parts and products of tigers and other big cats, from both wild and captive sources.

A permit and a tiger skin rug in Xiafeng taxidermy with, inset, permit details (c) EIA

A permit and a tiger skin rug in Xiafeng taxidermy with, inset, permit details (c) EIAimage

China is the original ‘tiger farming’ country. The first ‘tiger farm’ was established in North-east China in 1986, 13 years after international commercial trade in tigers and tiger parts was banned. This was a Government-funded operation to breed tigers for profit, primarily to supply bones for use in traditional medicine.

Click here for a detailed timeline of tiger farming in China.

In the face of international pressure, China banned domestic trade in tiger bone and rhino horn in 1993 via an order from the State Council, the highest body in government. However, China continued to allow domestic trade in tiger skins, and the number of tigers kept in captivity across the country – from large-scale, commercial ‘farms’ to small ‘zoos’ and informal backyard operations – has ballooned to around 6,000 tigers. The ‘tiger farming’ model has also been exported to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

In 2018, the State Council repealed the 1993 ban, replacing it with a new order which specifically allows the use of bones from farmed tigers and horns from farmed rhinos in clinical treatment and medical research. After a domestic and international backlash, Government spokespersons stated that implementation of this new order would be delayed, but it has not been reversed, and the State Council website continues to list the 2018 order as valid policy.

As the primary market for tiger and many other endangered wildlife products, China’s laws and policies have a huge impact on the world’s biodiversity. Fewer than 4,000 wild tigers survive worldwide today, and poaching of wild tigers for trade shows no signs of abating. Given this precarious situation, it is crucial that all range states and consumer countries have robust legislation to outlaw all trade in tiger parts and products and impose deterrent sentences on those engaging in tiger trade. A legal trade in tiger parts and products maintains and stimulates demand, complicates law enforcement and undermines efforts to reduce demand for tiger products.

China’s legal trade in tiger skins was documented by us in 2013 (read our report Hidden in Plain Sight). Just like the permit system previously used for legal trade in ivory – which was banned in China in 2017 – this system is seriously flawed and gives traders opportunities to ‘launder’ illegally-acquired tiger parts. We also uncovered industrial level production of tiger bone wine, which traders claimed was sanctioned by a ‘secret’ government document.

We have been campaigning for many years for amendments to Chinese laws and regulations to prohibit all trade in tiger parts and products. A major overhaul of China’s wildlife protection legislation in 2016 was a missed opportunity to conclusively end the tiger trade. President Xi Jinping has shown conservation leadership by banning China’s ivory trade. But he has yet to do the same to save the tiger.