Sixteen members of a gang believed to have slaughtered more than 10 captured tigers over the years have been arrested in Zhanjiang, southern Guangdong, revealing a secret trade that has supplied blood sport, traditional remedies and exotic delicacies to wealthy customers and local officials, the Nanfang Daily reports.
Zhanjiang police raided a residential building in Leizhou on March 14 and found 16 people slaughtering a tiger, police said on their official microblog. One of the suspects jumped or fell to his death from the building while trying to flee.
Police seized the carcass of the tiger, believed to have been captured in Vietnam and shipped alive to China, assorted tiger goods to be sold on the black market, and a cache of weapons used to capture the big cats, including knifes, bullets and stun guns.
According to the report, watching the big cats being killed in the field then cooked and eaten had became popular among wealthy businessmen and government officials not only in Leizhou, but in Zhanjiang.
Many local officials, including delegates to the municipal people’s congress and senior officials at county and township level, are enthusiastic about such exotic banquets or drinking tiger-bone wine. The report said private businessmen would often pay for the officials to attend such events.
It is not known exactly how many tigers have been killed illegally in Leizhou. This case is only the third reported by local police – the others were in 2007 and 2010. But it is estimate as many as 20 were slaughtered and sold at local markets in that time, the report said.
The report said the criminal syndicates already have buyers for the meat or bones lined up before they smuggle the tigers from Vietnam. Tigers are slaughtered at various places in Leizhou to avoid police detection: in the woods, banana groves or houses. They quickly move on when a sale is complete.
The gang would buy live tigers from Vietnam for about 200,000 yuan (HK$) each and sell its meat and tiger skeleton in Leizhou as high as 300,000 yuan in total.
Trade in tiger parts was banned nationwide in 1993, although bones are sometimes used in traditional Chinese medicine and as a tonic for men.
The Indochinese tiger of Vietnam is classed on the threshold of “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Between 420 and 1,100 only are believed to survive in either captivity or the wild in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. The last Indochinese tiger in China was killed and eaten by a poacher in 2007.
The South China Tiger, a separate species that once roamed in Hong Kong, was killed off in large numbers in the 1950s and is believed to be extinct in the wild. There have been no official sightings since the early 1970s.