Cablegate: Devouring Dragon, Disappearing Tigers: A Look at South

Published: Thu 12 Jul 2007 05:22 AM
DE RUEHGZ #0787/01 1930522
R 120522Z JUL 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Devouring Dragon, Disappearing Tigers: A Look at South
China's Tiger Farms and Reserves
1. (U) SUMMARY: China has launched a number of conservation efforts
to save the remaining tigers in China, including the nearly extinct
South China tiger. However, the demand for tiger products persists,
much of it related to the vaunted health, medicinal and preservative
qualities of the tiger; there are also questions as to the
motivation of these tiger conservation efforts and it appears that
the two preserves visited by Econoff really can't sustain themselves
without undertaking some commercial actions that would affect the
well being of the animals they are supposed to protect. END
Endangered Species at Guilin Xiong Seng Tiger and Bear Farm
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2. (U) The Guilin Xiong Seng Tiger and Bear Farm is located
approximately 30 minutes outside of the city center of Guilin in
Guangxi province. The farm boasts having 400 Asiatic black bears
and 1300 rare tigers, including south China tigers, white tigers,
and Siberian tigers. All of the animals are either endangered
species, or in the case of the South China tiger, nearly extinct. A
placard on the front gate of the farm indicated that the farm
received funding from the State Forestry Administration. Econoff
made an unofficial visit to the farm and had no official contact
with the farm's management. At the time of Econoff's visit, there
were only approximately 20 visitors to the farm.
3. (SBU) In April 2007, the British-based Independent Television
Network and the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported
that the farm was selling tiger meat at its restaurants as well as
tiger paw and wine with tiger bone. During Econoff's visit there
were newly-erected signs throughout the farm stating: "for the
protection of Guilin Xiong Seng's Intellectual Property Rights, any
photography, videotaping... or news-gathering is STRICTLY
FORBIDDEN." However, there appeared to be no effort to enforce this
4. (SBU) The farm consists of two large open air areas for the black
bears. Based on a quick count by Econoff, nearly 200 black bears
were visible. Many of the bears appeared obese. Several bears that
were close enough for us to observe had small patches of hair shaved
off of their torsos.
5. (SBU) The tigers are divided by species and kept within open air
areas or small caged pens. The tigers numbered up to five in an
open area or up to three in a small pen. They appeared to be well
fed and in good health. There were also a number of cages which
visitors were not allowed access to, but tigers could be spotted
inside the cages. Econoff estimated the total number of tigers he
saw at more than 500. The farm also had a small number of African
6. (SBU) The farm included a theater where bear cubs and tigers
performed in a circus-like environment. During the performance,
Econoff witnessed several tigers being struck with a metal pole,
while other tigers were whipped. The farm also has a dirt race
track where several animals, such as camels and horses, raced. In
addition, a mock Chinese marriage procession was performed with
black bear cubs acting as bride and groom.
8. (SBU) There is also a large open space area that is allegedly a
training area for tigers which are to be introduced into the wild.
During Econoff's visit, visitors watched tigers hunt and kill oxen
or water buffalo, which in theory could be useful in training a
tiger to hunt and kill. Econoff also visited the nursery area of
the farm where young animals were being raised. The tiger cubs in
this area were eager to congregate near Econoff in anticipation of
food. None of the cubs exhibited any fear of humans.
11. (SBU) The only educational area was a small museum at the far
end of the farm, consisting of stuffed tigers and bears. Adjacent
to the museum is a store selling powdered black bear bile and tiger
wine, i.e. wine laced with powdered tiger bone. There were also a
few tiger dolls, but they were not prominently displayed. Econoff
could not find a building that was used for research or scientific
purposes. Staff said there were no research facilities at the
12. (SBU) Comment: The staff of the store was initially very
suspicious and reluctant to discuss their products. However,
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Econoff convinced the staff that he was Korean and the staff became
eager to sell items to the Econoff. The staff stated that up to
three tour groups of Koreans came a day, numbering more than 30 in
each group. The Koreans were among the most enthusiastic purchasers
of both the black bear bile and the tiger wine, according to store
staff. The staff also said that the export of these products to
South Korea was not illegal, but was illegal to ship to Europe. The
price for 500 ml of black bear bile was RMB 396 (approximately USD
52). Staff noted that it took approximately 5000 ml of bear bile to
produce this powder, which allegedly has powerful medicinal
attributes. The price of the tiger wine varied depending on the age
of the wine. One year old wine cost RMB 80 (USD 10.50). Three
year-old tiger wine cost RMB 420 (USD 55) and eight year-old tiger
wine cost RMB 896 (USD 117). In the store, Econoff could see four
large vats, allegedly full of tiger wine, on display.
13. (SBU) Comment: At the entrance of the farm were two restaurants
but they both appeared to be closed. Locals said that until
recently, both restaurants served tiger meat and that it was
possible to purchase tiger skin but buyers were required to reserve
them in advance. The staff denied tiger meat or tiger skin was
available for purchase.
An Overview of Longyan Tiger Reserve
14. (U) Longyan Tiger Reserve is located approximately 3 hours
outside of Xiamen in Fujian province. The Reserve was established
by the Forestry Department in 2001 with a goal of increasing the
number of nearly extinct south China tigers through natural
breeding. Neither Forestry Department nor Reserve officials were
willing to facilitate an official visit. Econoff spoke instead with
working staff. Initially starting with six South China tigers, the
reserve now boasts a population of 22 tigers. At the time of
Econoff's visit, there were no other visitors to the reserve.
15. (U) The reserve consists of an inn with rooms and a restaurant,
an abandoned monkey habitat, an abandoned bird habitat, and an
operational tiger habitat. There is no evidence of a research or
scientific facility at the reserve. Monitoring cameras at the tiger
habitat were all unplugged.
16. (SBU) The inn had a stuffed South China tiger as a display in
the main entrance with three stuffed tiger cubs. The inn also sold
tiger wine from Guilin among other souvenirs. However, the staff
denied that the store sold any other tiger products.
17. (SBU) The tiger habitat consisted of eight cages and four large
open space areas. Econoff was able to observe 4 tigers in the open
space areas as well as six tigers in the caged areas, including
tiger cubs. The tigers appeared to be well fed and in good health.
Several signs attached to the tiger enclosure indicated that four
companies had previously sponsored the care of particular tigers.
18. (SBU) The staff stated that they were not aware of any plans to
improve the marketing of the reserve, nor were they aware of plans
to reintroduce tigers into the wild. When asked about scientific
research, reserve staff, which included one member with daily
contact with the tigers, said that he knew of no research being
conducted at present.
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!: Conservation or Consumption?
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19. (SBU) Comment: Although Econoff was unable to confirm
allegations that tiger meat was available at the Guilin Tiger Farm,
the commercial nature of the farm was troubling. The large number
of endangered tigers and bears present with no current plans to
reintroduce to them into the wild raises concern regarding the
motivation of such a farm. Given the cost of feeding and caring for
the numerous tigers, lions and bears, it appears highly unlikely
that the farm would be able to meet its costs based solely on the
admission price and government subsidies. One local alleged that
the farm was selling or leasing out tigers to other places. The
source was unable to provide more detailed information regarding the
fate of those animals and Econoff is unable to confirm this
20. (SBU) The Longyan reserve at this time does not appear to be a
commercial operation similar to the Guilin farm. However, the lack
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of a plan regarding the future of the South China tigers located at
this park, its similarities in the design and layout of the reserve
compared to the Guilin farm, and no obvious sources of funding to
provide for the care of the tigers raise troubling questions
regarding the long-term purpose of the facility.
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