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How raising tigers as farm animals drives illegal poaching in the wild

In “Blood of the Tiger,” author J.A. Mills examines the multi-billion dollar market for tigers -- a worldwide problem but most prominent in China. Jeffrey Brown interviews the author about how tiger farms drive mass demand for products made from tigers, and how that in turn spurs demand for wild animals via illegal hunting.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    And finally tonight: the worldwide multibillion-dollar illegal trade in wildlife, especially big cats in China.

    Jeff Brown is back with a book conversation he recorded recently.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Tiger farms in China where tigers are bred and raised, a new book argues that these farms play into and exacerbate an illegal trade of animals such as tigers that are prized in some parts of the world for their use in traditional medicines, wine, clothing, taxidermy and more.

    At stake, the very future of the tigers, with some 5,000 on 6,000 on farms and just 4,000 in the wild.

    The book is "Blood of the Tiger: A Story of Conspiracy, Greed, and the Battle to Save a Magnificent Species." The author is J.A. Mills, a consultant to the MacArthur Foundation, formerly with the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International.

    And welcome to you.

    So, tell us, what is tiger farming? What does that mean when you see it up close?

    J.A. MILLS, Author, "Blood of the Tiger": A tiger farm is basically a feed lot for tigers. It's a place where tigers are bred like battery hens for the manufacture of luxury products, including tiger bone wine and tiger skins. Some of these tiger farms actually have tiger bone wineries on the property.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, the demand is coming from where?

  • J.A. MILLS:

    Well, at one time, the demand was from traditional Chinese medicine.

    But, in 1993, China banned the use of tiger bone. And since that time, traditional Chinese medicine has not been using tiger bone. In fact, the traditional Chinese medicine industry no longer needs or wants to use tiger bone.

    And it's also interesting to note that polls repeatedly show that most Chinese people don't want to use tiger products and they don't want tiger farms.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, so then what is the problem? Why are the tigers being farmed?

  • J.A. MILLS:

    OK, the problem with tiger farming is that it increases demand for tiger products. And that in turn increases poaching, because the products from wild tigers are considered superior, more prestigious, and exponentially more valuable.

    There are even people now who are buying tiger products from the wild as a new asset class, much as they would buy rare art or antique jewelry.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, the connection between the farms and the wild is, the farms create the demand, but then people go out into the wild to kill the tigers?

  • J.A. MILLS:

    There are very wealthy investors who are poised to launch a multibillion-dollar-a-year luxury goods market selling of tiger bone wines and tiger skins, they hope, to the general public.

    So the farms are creating a mass demand. But if only the tiniest fraction of China's 1.4 billion people decided that they want wild tigers, we could lose the last 3,000 remaining tigers in the wild almost overnight.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, what do Chinese officials say to you about this? Are they against the farming or the illegal trade in tigers, or do they seem to be just allowing it?

  • J.A. MILLS:

    The China State Forestry Administration is promoting tiger farming.

    They actually have invested money in tiger bone wineries. They are actively promoting this as a tiger conservation tool, ignoring the fact that reigniting demand for tiger products will also reignite poaching of wild tigers that will be unsustainable.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, what should be done?

  • J.A. MILLS:

    One of the reasons I wrote the book was that I had hoped that readers and other members of the public would speak out.

    I think that it's in our hands now. I think that people need to talk about it with their friends, tweet about it, Facebook about it. People need to express their solidarity with the majority of people in China, who do not want the tiger farming and tiger trade.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, the book is "Blood of the Tiger."

    J.A. Mills, thank you so much.

  • J.A. MILLS:

    Thank you very much.

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