Dead tigers, peeled skins, claws and bouillons from tiger bones: the cruel findings on a Czech estate in July 2018 were only the tip of the iceberg. Recent research conducted by international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS shows that legal and illegal trade with endangered tigers and their body parts are flourishing in Europe. Not only Eastern European countries are involved, but also EU countries such as Italy, France, Germany and Spain. Lack of controls and registrations make Europe an El Dorado for wildlife traders from Asia. Therefore, FOUR PAWS calls on the European Commission to stop the cruel business with tigers.
Many of the captive-bred tigers end up in questionable petting zoos and circuses or are slaughtered and processed for traditional Chinese medicine. Between 1999 and 2016 alone, 161 tigers were legally exported from the EU to Asia. There, the big cats usually disappear in a network of wildlife smugglers. The business is lucrative: after all, a live tiger brings up to 22,000 euros on the Asian market. "The belief that tigers from Europe are bigger and stronger is widespread in Asia. It is similar to cars – the European origin stands for quality. Asian wildlife traders openly say that they and their customers prefer Euro-Tigers," says Kieran Harkin, Head of Wildlife Campaigns at FOUR PAWS.
Europe as linchpin for tiger trade
Breeding and trading tigers is allowed throughout the EU. Lack of documentation makes it impossible to determine how many of these tigers live in captivity in Europe. Alone the official export and import figures of the recent years serve as indicators. Between 1999 and 2016, 862 live tigers were legally imported into the EU and 1,412 were exported to non-EU countries. On the other hand, between 1999 and 2017, about 8,278 illegal tiger products, such as tiger bouillons, teeth and claws, and 57 illegal, live tigers were seized within the EU. According to FOUR PAWS’ research, France, Italy, Belgium, Slovakia, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Czech Republic were involved in illegal activities.
Tigers die suspiciously young in Europe
While tigers live up to 20 years in the wild, research by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) reveals a different picture. In 2015, Czech authorities scrutinised private breeders and found that their tigers die on average at the age of four to five years. "At this young age, tigers are usually considered healthy and agile. The conspicuous early death of tigers in private hands is thus either associated with extremely poor keeping conditions, or the animals are deliberately killed early – probably to capitalise on their body parts," says Harkin from FOUR PAWS. Dealing with animal carcasses is not well regulated in EU countries. The cause of death is almost never tested. In best case scenario, the type and weight of the carcasses are documented.
EU citizens oppose tiger trade
With the legal trade of captive-bred tigers, the European Commission not only disregards the needs of animals, but also the will of EU citizens. According to a survey initiated by FOUR PAWS in August 2018, it was found that 91% from a group of 7,223 participants from Austria, Germany, the UK, the Czech Republic, France, Spain and the Netherlands, are in favour of a ban on trade in captive-bred tigers for commercial purposes. Only four percent would like the commercial trade of tigers to remain legal. The rest abstained.
Problem case Czech Republic as role model
Although the Czech Republic used to be a hotspot for tiger trading in the past, the detections in July 2018 have led to serious changes. The Czech Ministry of Environment put the immediate suspension of commercial tiger exports into force. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that in future it would be more stringent to control big cat breeders and to ban species-inappropriate interactions with the animals. "The change of heart of the Czech Republic should set an example for all other EU members. Tigers are no party props, no selfie motifs, no cuddly toys, no home accessories and no medical miracle cure. Tigers are endangered wild animals that need our protection. We therefore urge the European Commission to ban the commercial trade in tigers for good," says Harkin.
FOUR PAWS has launched a petition that enables supporters to call on the European Commission to ban the commercial trade in captive-bred tigers to protect the endangered species from cruel exploitations: