Siberian tigers move south to make some money

By Wu Yong (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-09-28 07:51

Fifteen Siberian tigers are traveling a long way from Harbin in Northeast China to Xiamen in the south - to help their families and relatives live a better life back home.

The Harbin-based Siberian Tiger Park signed a five-year contract with Xiamen Huzhilin Company earlier this year for an undisclosed amount; and the tigers will be on view in the coastal city from October 1, the first day of the week-long National Day holidays.

To take care of the tigers, two zookeepers from Harbin will be with them throughout the five years, said Bian Shifeng, a park employee.

It is not the first time the Harbin park has leased out tigers to ease its financial strain - more than 100 tigers can be found in Dalian, Shenyang and Taiyuan zoos, and generate about 1 million yuan ($133,000) each year, a source close to the park said.

The park, founded in 1996, is one of the major Siberian tiger breeding bases in the country. In the past decade, their number has jumped from eight to more than 800.

While preservation of the precious species is ensured, the increasing number of big cats has led to another conundrum: How to feed them.

Wang Ligang, the park's general manger, said the financial deficit is rising despite local government support.

A tiger eats 5 kg of meat every day and its annual expense covering food and medical care is about 30,000 yuan ($3,993).

Which means the park has to fork out more than 20 million yuan ($2.67 million) each year, according to Liu Dan, chief engineer of the park.

Wang said the park has three sources of income: ticket sales, leasing out the tigers and government funding. "But it is far from enough."

The price of pork and other meat rose more than 80 percent in the first eight months of this year, driven mostly by increases in animal feed prices, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Sources familiar with the conditions in the park said tigers are now fed chicken instead of beef to cut costs.

Cao Liang, director of the China Wildlife Conservation Association, said tiger leasing is justified as long as approval is secured from the local governments. "The best protection for many tigers (in Harbin) is to provide enough food for them," Cao said.

"The only solution is to lift the ban on tiger trade. The trade of bones from tigers that are bred in captivity and die of natural causes will not affect the conservation of wild tigers. This can help raise funds for living tigers and also give relief to patients," Wang said.

In Chinese medicine, tiger parts are used as cures for illnesses ranging from colds to rheumatism.

In China, about 50 tigers live in the wilderness and around 5,000 in captivity. Some 1,000 are born each year in farms and about the same number have died of natural causes in recent years.

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