Video footage posted online of a gang in Leizhou in southern Guangdong electrocuting a caged tiger has horrified the public.
Police in nearby Zhanjiang have arrested 16 suspected members of the gang believed to have slaughtered more than 10 of the animals as a blood sport to entertain rich and powerful customers.
The meat was then cooked for the wealthy paying guests. Tiger parts were also sold as medicines.
The authorities have seized tiger carcasses and animal parts, plus a cache of weapons, including knives, guns and bullets, used by poachers to subdue the big cats. The tigers were reportedly caught in Vietnam and smuggled alive into China.
A closer look at the case shows that this supposedly secret activity was well known among local people and has operated for years.
Police in the area reported two similar cases of tiger killings in 2007 and 2010 after they were tipped off by local residents.
There are also estimates that as many as 20 tigers may have been slaughtered during this period, according to a report in the official Nanfang Daily newspaper.
The going rate to buy a tiger in Vietnam is about 200,000 yuan (HK$250,000), according to the report. The meat and bones of the animal can be sold later in Leizhou for as much as 300,000 yuan.
Even before a tiger is shipped to China, enthusiastic buyers, mostly wealthy businessmen and local officials, have already been lined up. Watching the rare big cats being killed in the field, then cooked and eaten has became an exotic and apparently popular entertainment among the region's rich and powerful.
"This visual feast has become something that you can show off about among friends," the newspaper quoted a Leizhou official as saying. Only people with access to the elite in business and politics are invited to watch.
Based on these accounts, can the local authorities really have been ignorant of the bloody slaughter of tigers and the trade in tiger parts, which has been banned nationwide since 1993? Or have they merely turned a blind eye?
Tigers are not the only animals cruelly slaughtered and consumed in Leizhou. The Leizhou Peninsula has been dubbed a "hell for migratory birds" thanks to the rampant poaching in the area in the winter months. Officials have responded to public criticism with short-lived crackdowns on wild bird poaching.
One wonders if the same half-hearted approach will be adopted to tackling the smuggling and killing of tigers?
Beijing has launched projects to protect and restore habitats for wild tigers in the country's northeast in response to the international efforts to save the endangered big cats.
Turning a blind eye to the bloody trade in tiger parts will easily destroy any positive image the country is attempting to build in preserving threatened wildlife.