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22 Oct 07
Protection or profit? Wildlife farming in China
Oct 22 (Reuters) - Farming wild animals like bears, crocodiles and tigers has been promoted as a means of saving endangered species by proponents in China, while detractors argue that farms stimulate the illegal wildlife trade and threaten the survival of animals in the wild.
Here are some facts about China's wildlife farms.
-- China's wildlife farms started in the 1950s. By the 1970s thousands of mink and deer were being bred in state-monopoly farms. By the early 1990s, farms included black bears, Siberian tigers, Chinese alligators and wild horses. By 2003, 54 wildlife species were reported as having been successfully bred in captivity.
-- Today China has the world's biggest wildlife domestication operation, worth billions of dollars. In 1998, an estimated 100,000 people were employed in wildlife farming enterprises. In 2003, as many as 10,000 people were working in Sichuan province's bear bile industry alone.
-- China's 1988 Wildlife Protection Law enshrines state support for wildlife farming, and names protection of endangered animals for human utilisation as one of the farms' goals.
-- China has no general animal welfare law to prevent animal abuse on farms or elsewhere.
WHY FARM BEARS?:
-- Used for some 3,000 years, bear bile is prized as "liquid gold" in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Classed as a "cold" and "bitter" medicine it is used to treat cancers, burns, pain and redness of the eyes, asthma, sinusitis and liver problems.
-- Bile from wild bears is thought more potent than the farmed variety. But it is far more expensive and harder to obtain because killing protected black bears for their bile-containing gall bladders is illegal in China, as elsewhere.
WHAT ABOUT THE TIGER FARMS?:
-- China banned its tiger farms, which housed some 5,000 tigers, from selling tiger-parts, bones and products in 1993, but farms still open as tourist attractions.
-- Along with rhino horn, tiger parts were removed from the official pharmacopeia of China, and manufacture and commercial trade ceased. The move came amid international pressure to ban all trade as tiger numbers plummeted.
-- However tiger farmers are now lobbying to have the trade relegalised. Conservation groups say some people still sell black market tiger bone wines and other medicinal products.
CRUEL AND UNNECESSARY?:
-- Techniques used to extract bear bile via catheters and metal jackets on farms have long been criticised as cruel, painful and internally damaging to bears, some of which are confined to cages for decades on end.
-- Critics also say the industry is unnecessary as several synthetic alternatives to bear bile exist, and it is only a supplementary addition in medical remedies.
-- Conservation groups say the inherent tension between wildlife farms' twin goals of protecting and utilising wild animals confuses the public about which animals can be bought, sold and consumed, and which cannot.
-- Because farmed animals cannot be reintroduced into the wild, the farms have no conservation benefit, they add.
-- The legal domestic market for bear bile in China can allow poachers to launder their products in the marketplace and spurs the poaching of black bears, other critics say.
Sources: Reuters, Peter J. Li, "Enforcing Wildlife Protection in China", Animals Asia, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
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