The appetite of Chinese consumers for endangered and threatened species is considered one of the greatest threats facing environmentalists and animal activists. Even Chinese diplomats have been accused of massive violations of laws protecting these species. As Chinese consumers acquire more disposable income, the demand for such products is increasing. The results are disgusting and no better example is the illegal production of Tiger wine, an aphrodisiac which sells for more than $500 a bottle. The wine is made from the bone of tigers who are raised in shocking conditions, including near starvation.
Across China, tigers are kept on “tiger farms” to supply Chinese men with the wine which they believe enhances their sexual prowess. There are an estimated 6000 tigers languishing in these farms. The bones are left soaking for eight years and then mixed with snake extract.
The continued popularity of these products shows how the market rather than government regulations are controlling events. As I have previously discussed, I have personally seen the insatiable desire for these products. About 20 years ago, I was on a delegation to Taiwan and one of my areas of discussion was environmental protection. On the flight over to Taipei, our government sanctioned the Taiwan government for the sale of endangered species body parts in medicines and products. When I arrived, that is all the President and ministers wanted to discuss. They were quite angry and insisted that you could not buy such things as tiger bone on the island.
After days of denials, I decided to investigate the matter myself. I left the meeting early and got into a cab. The Justice minister had just denied that such products were openly sold in Taiwan so I asked the cab driver where I could buy tiger bone. He immediately said “Snake alley.” He offered to drive me that night and I accepted. After driving through the city that night, he walked me down a narrow alley with underaged girl prostitutes on either side behind thin curtains. It was horrible with some girls who looked as young as ten. We then emerged in Snake alley — so named because people often came to drink snake blood as an aphrodisiac. I watched as one large snake was killed and drained into a pint cup and given to a young man. The snake’s beating heart was placed on the table in front of him. He paid a wad of money and drank the blood and was served a snake soup. In addition to open sex acts on display, there was a wide array of endangered species body parts for sale from dozens of open tables. I bought a few and took them to the meeting the next day. I explained that it took me literally minutes to find a place to buy these. The minister looked shocked and then had an interesting response. Instead of again denying the availability of such products, he said that the Chinese culture is ancient and that he can personally attest that these ancient remedies work.
The preference for exotic animals in the Chinese market has deep cultural roots. I have been to China and spoken with environmentalists who have bravely fought not just the government but this cultural insensitivity of such issues. They are incredible heroes in the environmental movement in facing not only government abuse but citizen abuse for resisting these cultural traditions.