Ban on Wild Tiger Sales 'a Complete Failure'?

"He said, 'We don't kill them, we just beat them up badly enough, they go back to their village, and don't ever come back,'" Anderson said. "These people don't tolerate poaching because they want to keep the animals alive. They allow hunting. They allow photography. That is the way to save wildlife."

And it's worked.

But Judy Mills, Conservation International's wildlife trade advisor says that farming tigers won't necessarily stop poaching.

"Bears are farmed in China. There is more than enough bear bile to go around to the whole of China. [But] wild bears are still being poached for their gall bladders."

And this is true. It's impossible to stop all poaching. Rhinos too are still being poached. But their numbers have steadily grown since farming began in Africa.

"There are a lot more rhinos alive on private land where there were no rhinos 50 years ago, 40 years ago," said Child.

Right now in China, thousands of tigers survive only because some tiger farms protect them. About a dozen farms are currently breeding tigers, and their owners hope that next year the Chinese government will lift its ban on tiger sales.

Gabriel believes that would be a disaster for wild tigers. She says it's expensive to raise farmed tigers, and legalizing the sale of tiger parts would just increase poaching.

"If you allow farmed tigers to be traded on the market, you're going to restimulate demand," she said. "You're going to undermine over a decade of conservation work to reduce demand."

But Anderson says "that's a silly idea."

"It ignores what supply and demand is all about," he said. "Legalizing trade is not going to increase the demand. Farming is a way to take the pressure off of those wild tigers."

Farming Animals to Save Them: 'Magical Thinking'

So who's right?

"Let me tell you about a survey that we did recently in China, which showed that 90 percent of Chinese people actually support the ban," said Mills. "They support the ban, and they see the greater good in keeping the ban in place."

But many of the same people who supported the ban also admitted to having products made from tiger bone.

Gabriel says we need more time to educate the Chinese consumer, that "we haven't had a lot of time to work at all the steps" to reduce the demand in China for tiger products.

But how long can we wait? Mills claims the ban has worked in America, where it's illegal now even to sell medicines that pretend to contain tiger parts. But even in relatively law-abiding America, we easily found these products in New York City's Chinatown neighborhood that used images of tigers to promote sales.

Nonetheless, Mills says, "The bans have worked tremendously. By my calculations, more than 2,000 tigers are still alive in the wild today because of the ban."

But thousands more have vanished because people aren't allowed to own and sell tigers. It's quite the conceit that a few conservation groups think a government decree can get a billion-plus people to just change their culture.

"The demand is there by people for thousands of years who have felt that this is a useful medicinal product for them," said Anderson. "That isn't going away."

So it makes sense that farming tigers will meet that demand. But Judy Mills disagrees.

"Believing that farming tigers and reopening trade in their products will somehow save wild tigers is magical thinking," she said.

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