Chinese youth turn into tiger guardians
Written by Sabrina Qi Zhang
“I have seen tigers in the wildlife park. They don’t look happy.” A little boy said, referring to the infamous tiger farms/wildlife parks in China that sell tiger products, as he put his fingerprint on a tiger picture which represents his family’s commitment to protect tigers by rejecting tiger products.
In early 2012, IFAW’s book “Run, Tiger Run” on the plight of tigers was published. IFAW organized a series of book promotional events to garner the interest and attention of the media and the general public in order to promote greater awareness of the threats to tigers.
On this Saturday morning, IFAW’s tiger book promotion and exhibition titled “Read, Love and Protect” was going on at Beijing’s largest book store, Xidan Book Store. The second floor was crowded with children and their parents. They were reading the tiger book; listening to the stories told by conservationists, and signing the petition to protect wild tigers.
“Will tigers disappear when I grow up?” A young boy asked.
The question grieved me. Could they escape extinction in the future? At the turn of the last century there were estimated to be about 100,000 wild tigers on the Asia continent. Today their number has plummeted to as few as 3,000. Even worse, three subspecies have become extinct just in the past 50 years. As the origins of the tiger species, wild tigers have all but disappeared in China. Chinese can only see tigers in zoos, wildlife parks or tiger farms.
In November 2011, a female wild Amur tiger was found in Heilongjiang Province, which attracted a lot of attention from the media and cheered by the public. As a tiger range state, China historically had thousands of wild tigers. Now, however, only a few wild Amur tigers are left in an area in northeast China bordering with the Russian Far East. But more than 8000 tigers are suffering a life time of captivity in various tiger farms/wildlife parks in China.
I was delighted to hear that wild tigers are still roaming in my hometown-Heilongjiang. But I felt sad and ashamed that there are tiger farms located on the same land too.
I still remember the scene I saw in the farm, tiger cubs were taken away from their mothers before they were weaned in order to encourage the female tiger to enter another breeding cycle. I could not imagine the despair of the mother and the fear of the baby.
A happy laugh zapped me back to reality, looking around the room, I saw a little girl curled up in her mother’s arms reading a book. The mother fondled her back and kissed her little girl on her cheek. Baby tigers born on the farms were doomed to lose their mother’s love and their freedom forever.
Separated from their mother was just the beginning of a baby tiger’s miserable life in the farm. When the baby tigers were as young as four months old, they were de-clawed as a safety measure to “protect” visitors; they were chained to the ground for visitors to take photos with; they were forced to jump through fire rings or pull a cart, in a variety of circus performances and shows for the entertainment of visitors; they were kept hungry because the owner want to save money…
The farm-bred tigers are genetically compromised and therefore have no conservation value, nor can they be released into the wild. Even worse, as tiger farms in China are purely commercial operations, the farms have been producing and selling tiger products in wine, which revives waning market interest in tiger products and reverses the excellent progress made by the Chinese government to enforce the trade ban and conserve the remaining populations of wild tigers.
Tiger farming in China, is now posing renewed threats to the wild tiger both in China and in the other range states.
There is hope. There are international and domestic laws banning tiger trade. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao pledged at the Tiger Summit in 2010 to “combat poaching, smuggling and trade of tiger products”. As more Chinese consumers reject tiger products, wild tigers may have a chance to survive.
In 3 hours, more than 500 people had left their finger prints on the tiger pictures to show their commitment to refuse tiger trade. A few children even bought several books as gifts to their friends asking them to join in the efforts.
5-year old boy Ma Ding was the youngest supporter at the event. He answered all the questions raised by the hostess correctly, which made the audiences deeply moved by his enthusiasm. “I really want to help the baby tigers. Mum, please promise not to buy tiger products.” He left his fingerprint and proudly wore a badge with the Chinese words “Tiger Guardian”.
Children and their parents left their fingerprints on the tiger pictures which represent their family’s commitment to protect tigers and refuse tiger products.