Tiger bone trade: Shocking reason why people film big cat slaughter exposed

BBC documentary ‘Tigers: Hunting the Traffickers’ exposed the dark trade of “luxury items” made using the bones of big cats, last month. The horrifying revelations shone a light onto the criminals who brutally butcher tigers for the rich. Tiger bone wine and glue are consumed by some as a way to show-off their wealth and for others an aid to improve sexual performance. For wealthy individuals who buy into this dark trade, ensuring the cruelly-produced product is genuine is a major concern. Many either watch the vicious killings with their own eyes or have it filmed for veracity. Documentarian Aldo Kane and Environmental Investigation Agency’s Debbie Banks gave Express.co.uk a greater insight into the disturbing multi million pound industry.

Estimates from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) state there are fewer than 4,000 tigers in the wild – but there are many more in captivity.

There are believed to be up to 8,000 tigers held in East and Southeast Asia alone, none of whom will not be released back into their natural habitats.

China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, have specifically been highlighted as problematic nations – because of their battling against the illegal trade of animal body parts.

They are turned into “commodities” including tiger bone wine and glue, as shown in former-Royal Marine Aldo Kane’s shocking BBC documentary. 

He worked alongside wildlife investigators and activists to expose the cruel trade that sees tigers slaughtered for the rich.

In these southeast Asian cities some pay as much as $700 per 100 gram block of tiger bone glue, which is consumed after being added to alcohol.

An adult tiger killed in this horrific trade can be turned into 12 pieces of the dark black substance – totalling $84,000 (£67,800) for every big cat killed.

A secondary way the animal is turned into a “luxury item” is through their bones being stewed in wine for up to eight years and similarly sold on. 

During Mr Kane’s documentary, wildlife investigator Chau Doan went undercover twice to expose the trade and revealed the abhorrent conditions tigers were being kept in.

Left in tiny cages only a “few feet across”, the big cats ballooned and were believed to be pumped with liquid to increase their weight – making them more attractive to buyers.

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Once a tiger is selected from ‘big cat death row’, they are either killed before having their organs removed and flesh hacked away from the bones.

Many buyers choose to watch the grotesque act being carried out to ensure that they are getting “real tiger bones” that are prepared in the way they demanded, according to Mr Kane.

He explained that the killings are often filmed for “providence and proof” along with the video then being used as a “marketing tool” for further sales.

Mr Kane told Express.co.uk: “They would come to see a tiger being killed and stay three days while it’s boiled into glue to prove one hundred percent that it is a tiger.

“That’s why the videos are made, so that people buying products know the exact process is happening – from the electrocution or drowning to being gutted, disemboweled and processing.”

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This was furthered by Debbie Banks of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) who has worked to combat big cat crime for more than 20 years.

She explained that tigers bones are often supplemented with the bones of lions from South Africa – where more than 800 skeletons are legally allowed to be exported each year.

Ms Banks told Express.co.uk: “Once lion bones are in the tiger bone trade most people can’t tell the difference between the skeletons.

“Their skulls are very similar, so you would need an anatomical expert and clean bones without flesh left on them to tell the difference.”

She claims that Vietnamese traders who traffic lion and tiger bones together sell them for an inflated price.

Ms Banks added: “The tiger is seen as the ‘king of the cats’ and so is sold for a higher value.

“The people importing African lion bones have high profit margins as the bones are much cheaper to buy than tiger.”

This distrust in those selling the products have led many to visit the slaughterhouses for an unusual “vacation” where they can also verify the products are legitimate.  

Ms Banks told Express.co.uk: “The consumers want tiger, which is why some will go to a house and watch their tiger being killed and butchered in front of them.

“There they wait for two or three days while bones are boiled into a glue.

“During this time they will be drinking tiger blood, eating tiger meat and then they will take the item to gift or sell to others.

“Equally the traders themselves are videoing it and posting that online to market themselves genuine tiger traders.”

To find out more about the work of the Environment Investigations Agency visit: www.eia.com. 

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