Before analysing and discussing the arguments relating to the tiger farming debate, we present a summary of relevant literature that has been produced to date (for a full listing, see our References section at the end of this document). The issues relating to tiger conservation, captive breeding and trade are complex and there is much background information. In this section we simply highlight what we believe to be the key issues relevant to the debate. Readers seeking further details can find them in the referenced material.
Tiger conservation status and policy
Useful overviews of the tiger’s changing conservation status are provided by Tilson and Seal (1987), Nowell and Jackson (1996), Seidensticker, Christie and Jackson (1999), Sunquist and Sunquist (2002) and Tilson and Nyhus (2010). These texts track the changing status of wild tigers in their range states as well as the global captive tiger population. At the time of writing, the generally accepted WWF estimate of the global wild population stands at 3,200 (Moore 2010), following a detailed assessment for 2008 by Seidensticker, Gratwicke and Shrestha (2010), which placed the figure at between 3,800 and 5,200 adults. Nyhus, Tilson and Hutchins (2010) estimate the global captive population to be in excess of 13,000, and assert that only 1,118 of those form part of managed zoo populations of known genetic lineages.
Nine tiger subspecies are recognized, three of which are extinct (see Luo et al 2010). A fourth subspecies, the “South China Tiger” Panthera tigris amoyensis is generally considered to be functionally extinct in the wild, and there are initiatives aimed at restoring a wild population in China by “rewilding” captive bred stock (see Morell 2007; Traylor-Holzer, Xie and Yin 2010).
Determining and prioritizing tiger conservation objectives is no easy task. With 13 range states, 6 subspecies, numerous distinct in situ and ex situ tiger populations and a plethora of agencies with varying interests in the governmental, private and non-profit sectors, overall co-ordination of interests and funding priorities presents a challenge to all those involved. Attempts to establish a global tiger conservation plan can be tracked from the “taxonomy-based” approach of Seal, Jackson and Tilson (1987) to an ecology-based “Tiger Conservation Unit” approach (see Wikramanyake et al (1999), subsequently developed further as a “Tiger Conservation Landscape” approach (Sanderson et al 2010). The recent Global Tiger Recovery Program, spearheaded by the Global Tiger Initiative (2010a), goes beyond ecological management strategies to address broader issues such as human conflict and the threat from poaching and illegal trade in tiger parts.
As Meacham (1997) points out, simply “saving the tiger” as a species can quite easily be achieved, as tigers breed easily in captivity and there is ample market demand for both live tigers and tiger body parts. However, conservation and related groups pursue more specific and complex objectives, notably:
- Wildness – the maintenance of tigers as integral parts of larger ecosystems; i.e. in their natural habitat with their natural prey
- Genetic integrity – separate genetically viable populations of remaining subspecies
- Welfare – avoidance of harm and the provision of acceptable living conditions for both wild and captive tigers
Concerns regarding tiger farming typically relate to perceptions that it may compromise these objectives.
A recent article by Walston et al (2010) acknowledges the continuing unabated decline of wild tigers numbers, and argues for an approach based on the protection of 42 key source sites (“site-based protection”). They estimate the cost of such an approach to be US$82 million per annum. The Global Tiger Recovery Project (Global Tiger Initiative 2010a) calls for external financing of some US$280 million over the next 2-5 years.
Tiger conservation institutions
Among the many organizations with an interest in tiger conservation, several are noteworthy for playing a significant role in both tiger conservation and the farming debate. The oldest international conservation body is the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), in existence since 1948. The IUCN spawned the WWF in 1961 as its fund-raising arm (before the latter became independent), and was instrumental in the creation of CITES, which came into effect in 1975. The IUCN also initially established TRAFFIC, with financial support from WWF. TRAFFIC monitors international trade in wildlife products and provides technical assistance to CITES. WWF, TRAFFIC and CITES all play significant roles in shaping the tiger trade and farming debates.
In addition to TRAFFIC, certain other organizations have an interest in monitoring illegal trade and influencing policy, including the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). These organizations, along with some 36 others, make up the International Tiger Coalition (ITC), which spearheads the “End Tiger Trade” campaign.
Three other recent international initiatives are noteworthy: the Global Tiger Forum (GTF), Save the Tiger Fund (STF) and Global Tiger Initiative (GTI). The GTF was initially convened in 1994 as a political forum for tiger range states to exchange information, but membership since then has been somewhat limited. The STF is a joint venture between the ExxonMobil Foundation and the US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and has allocated close to US$ 16 million to various initiatives in tiger range states. The Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking (CATT) was also formed under the auspices of the STF (and is now superseded by the ITC).
The GTI is spearheaded by the World Bank, and has convened several international meetings since its inception in 2008. These are all intended to inform the Global Tiger Summit, the high-level ministerial meeting planned to take place in St. Petersburg in November 2010. The GTI lists 34 participant organizations (similar to the ITC) and has also assumed an explicit stance on ending illegal trade and closing down tiger farms, although the latter is not expressed in the draft St. Petersburg declaration that was drawn up at the most recent meeting in Bali (Global Tiger Initiative 2010c).
The trade in tiger parts
Asian consumers have a long-standing tradition of using and consuming tiger parts. According to Mills and Jackson (1996), tiger bone medicines have been in use for more than 1,500 years, but it was not until the 1980s that this use was first perceived as a threat to wild tiger populations. Apart from tiger bones and tiger skins, most other tiger body parts are also used and consumed for a range of purposes, and there is continuing evidence of such use.
In the last two decades, TRAFFIC has conducted numerous studies on the use and trade of tiger products. Nowell (2000) provides a worldwide survey of the trade, while other authors discuss specific markets such as Australia / New Zealand (Callister and Blythewood 1995), Sumatra (Shepherd and Magnus 2004; Ng and Nemora 2007), China (Nowell and Xu 2007), South Korea (Kang and Phipps 2003), Myanmar (Shepherd and Nijman 2008) and the USA (e.g Williamson and Henry 2008). Additional studies have been conducted by the EIA, and various reports appear on their website. Broad and Damania (2009) and Duffy (2010) provide recent overviews of the trade.
Further information and perspectives on tiger trade and poaching are provided by Hemley and Mills (1999), Galster and Eliot (1999) on Russia, Kumar and Wright (1999) and Wright (2010) on India, and Tilson, Nyhus, Sriyanto and Rubianto (2010) on Sumatra. Some research has also been done on consumer demand and attitudes, notably by Mills et al (1997), Lee et al (1998), Nowell and Xu (2007), Gratwicke et al (2008), Wasser and Jiao (2010) and the China Science and Technology Institute (see ‘t Sas-Rolfes 2010).
Tiger trade policy
Much of the literature on trade also discusses trade policy, with reports from TRAFFIC and the EIA typically recommending increased measures to restrict trade, reduce consumer demand and intensify enforcement efforts, all under the auspices of CITES.
At the inception of CITES in 1975, three tiger range states were among the 21 initial signatories, and most tiger subspecies were listed on Appendix, which bans commercial trade in the listed species. In 1987, the remaining tiger subspecies (Panthera tigris altaica) was added to Appendix, and in 1993 China agreed to impose a domestic ban on all tiger trade. By 2004 all 13 tiger range states had acceded to CITES, so all international trade has been officially illegal since then.
In addition to listing all tigers on Appendix and enlisting all tiger range states as signatories, CITES has acted as a vehicle for further measures to encourage trade restrictions and controls. The US government played a leading role by invoking a piece of legislation known as the Pelly Amendment in 1993 as a means to pressure certain countries (including China) to comply with CITES (see Meacham 1997). CITES itself has played a more active role in encouraging states to implement various policies and controls, via a series of official resolutions. The most recent resolution, from the 15th CITES Conference of Parties (COP-15, held in March 2010) is the revision of Res. Conf. 12.5, which calls for a range of intensified enforcement and related measures aimed at reducing trade.
Opinions are divided over the effectiveness of CITES in protecting wild tiger populations. While even the CITES secretary-general recently acknowledged a failure (Black 2010), some argue that without CITES the situation would be far worse (Nowell and Xu 2007). Conversely, others assert that the CITES Appendix approach is inherently flawed (Swanson 1994, Norton-Griffiths 1995, Hutton and Dixon 2000), and particularly in relation to certain species such as tigers (‘t Sas-Rolfes 2000, 2010; Lapointe et al 2007).
The most recent draft document of the proposed Global Tiger Recovery Program (Global Tiger Initiative 2010a) proposes expenditure of US$23.7 million for controlling illegal trade and reducing demand over the next five years . Of this, $19.3 million is earmarked for six specific range states, $4 million for combatting wildlife crime generally, and $500,000 for the launch of a campaign to target consumers of tiger products in an attempt to eliminate demand.
Throughout the world, captive breeding of wild animal species is undertaken for both conservation and commercial purposes.
In terms of conservation, the purpose of some captive breeding programs is to maintain a “genetic lifeboat”, with the ultimate intention of reintroduction or restoration to native habitat, or to replenish a genetically impoverished relict population (see Tilson and Seal 1987, Meacham 1997). Other programs breed wildlife in captivity for education, fundraising, and research purposes (Christie 2010). These conservation-oriented captive breeding programs are managed regionally by associations such as the American Zoological Association and counterparts in Europe, Japan and Australia, and coordinate with the IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist and Re-introduction Specialist Groups.
A second type of captive breeding is purely commercial. Fur farms (for other species), mostly found in the EU but also in China, are a good example.
A third category of captive breeding is that practiced by private individuals. Rationales for this practice include joy of possession, display and reproduction. This type of captive breeding occurs in the USA and also in Southeast Asia, where, among other things, a tiger cub makes a fine gift for a retiring military official. In the USA, there is a heated debate on the conservation value of such captive tigers, since they tend to be mixed at the sub-species level, and most scientists do not consider them as suitable candidates for reintroduction (see Nyhus, Tilson and Hutchins 2010).
A fourth kind of captive breeding, articulated by Harris (2008), also mingles conservation and commercial purposes. Practiced in Asia, especially China, the idea behind these programs is that the wild populations are helped because some—if not all—of the demand for the species is met by a sustainable source. The Chinese have a long history, dating back thousands of years, of domesticating and breeding wildlife in captivity. In China, this rationale is used for musk deer and Asiatic black bears.
The cases for and against farming
Consistent with its approach to captive breeding as a conservation measure, and following the precedent of bear farming, China started investigating the possibility of commercial tiger farming in the 1980s (see ‘t Sas-Rolfes 1998). In 1992, the Chinese government submitted a proposal to allow trade from captive-bred tigers at CITES COP-8 in Japan, but this was hastily withdrawn after meeting significant opposition (Meacham 1997). China then agreed to conform to the approach of further domestic trade restrictions, but simultaneously allowed the continued growth of its captive domestic population through breeding programmes.
In 2006, with China having built up a substantially increased captive population, the State Forestry Administration revisited the possibility of opening a controlled domestic trade, by inviting input from knowledgeable parties, including representatives from the TCM community and several economists. This effort culminated in a workshop held in Harbin in 2007, at which various interest groups expressed their views on reopening domestic legal trade in China (see Jiang et al 2007).
At a subsequent workshop in Singapore in 2008, six delegates with expertise in resource economics, conservation and business met to discuss both the Chinese proposals and objections against them. By consensus, they:
- concluded that there was insufficient information to make confident predictions about the likely impact of re-introducing legal trade,
- agreed that some of the anti-trade arguments were based on false assumptions, and
- recommended and specified a comprehensive research agenda to improve understanding of the issues.
Mitra (2006) presents the basic economic argument for tiger farming, asserting that “tiger-breeding facilities will ensure a supply of wildlife at an affordable price, and so eliminate the incentive for poachers”. This so-called “supply-side” argument is challenged in the academic economic literature by Damania and Bulte (2007), who demonstrate theoretically that there are certain conditions under which the argument does not hold. Bulte and Barbier (2005) provide an overview of the economic literature relating specifically to trade in renewable resources, and other detailed economic analyses of the arguments are provided by Fischer (2003, 2004, 2010). Abbot and Van Kooten (2009) present a sophisticated economic argument in favour of tiger farming, advocating a monopoly supply model (citing the example of the 19th century Canadian fur trade as a successful precedent). Oster (2010) contrasts the opinions of two of the economists on either side of the farming debate.
Outside of the academic economic literature, Lapointe et al (2007) argue that farming should at least be considered as an option, but there are numerous challenges to this view (e.g. Hemley and Mills 1999, Dinerstein et al 2007, Gratwicke et al 2007, Cameron, Banks and Gosling 2009, Wright 2010, Nowell 2010 and Mishra 2010). Proponents of farming proposals point to examples of farming success stories with other species – e.g. crocodiles and vicunas – whereas opponents cite examples of failures, such as turtle farming in China (see Haitao et al 2007) and the disappearance of wild crocodiles in Thailand (also due to farming). Kirkpatrick and Emerton (2009) provide the most recent summary of arguments against farming, and invoke the use of the precautionary principle.
Many valid concerns are raised about the risks of farming, but the existing trade ban policy is not without risk either (see ‘t Sas-Rolfes 2010). Norton-Griffiths (1995) argues that bans on products such as rhino horn and tiger bone may prove to be self-defeating and unenforceable, and Moyle (2009) points out that even high deterrents such as the death penalty have failed to end illegal trade and poaching. In response, Gosling (2009) argues that the ban has not failed, but rather that it has not been appropriately enforced.
The arguments for and against farming are linked to arguments over the potential effectiveness of CITES measures, the role and desirability of captive breeding, the nature of market demand for tiger products and operational issues (such as the potential for laundering). In the following section we extend the analyses done to date and consider the arguments in greater detail.