Tiger wine goes for $1,000 a pop. Tiger cake, sold like chocolate bars, fetches the same. The illegal trade in tiger parts has moved on from just medicinal pitches to luxury items. And India is one of the two biggest suppliers.
Between 2007 and 2018, the latest United Nations World Wildlife Crime Report said, two-thirds of all wildlife seizures globally were of tiger bones. “Thailand and India are the main source countries for these seizures,” the report said, adding that the ones in Thailand came from farmed animals — illegal tiger farms breed them in captivity — while those in India were from the wild.
Of the 155 cases in which the nationality of tiger traffickers could be determined, the report added, 18% were Indian, only behind Chinese (29%).
Tiger bones are sought after in underground markets for the medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities attributed to them in some forms of Asian traditional medicine. It is infused in wine to make tiger wine, boiled down to make cake or ground into a powder to make pills. “The first tiger bone case I came across in India was in 1986, a seizure near the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. By the early 1990s, the illegal trade in tiger bones from India to China was widespread,” Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, told TOI.
The report identifies two trafficking routes — the trans-Himalayan (India-Nepal-Tibet) and the Mekong Delta (southeast Asian countries). “Some border areas in South Asia have been identified as hotspots for tiger trafficking based on high seizure rates recorded there. From South Asia, parts move across the borders of India and Nepal into China via the northeast India route to Myanmar,” it said.
The markets are in China, Vietnam and Thailand. But the consumer base has changed. “Consumer demand profiles for tiger products have started to change, and new forms of demand are emerging … The switch is from tiger meat and tiger wine being consumed only as health products to now also being consumed as exotic luxury products that demonstrate affluence,” the report said.
How the trade functions is also changing. “A large part of the trade … has shifted to online sales through social media and messaging apps,” the report said. Qamar Qureishi, senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India, had a word of caution: “Almost 70% of human diseases are zoonotic … People should stay away from wildlife products as much as possible to eliminate the possibility of contracting diseases like Covid-19.” (Times of India)