Aldo Kane Uncovers Illegal Tiger Farms Where Their Bones Are Being Sold For More Than Cocaine
But some tiger farms - established to help halt the slide into extinction - are actually driving demand in a black market where the animals are bred for their parts and sold off.
Tiger bones and even foetuses are being harvested and sold into a shameful black market.
Some animals are brutally drowned or electrocuted before being skinned, chopped up and boiled down over several days - all to fuel a macabre market of high-end buyers.
In a new investigative BBC programme, Tigers: Hunting the Traffickers, ex-Royal Marines Commando-turned-activist Aldo Kane delves into the murky world of South East Asia's illegal tiger farms.
In the one-hour film, Kane and his team travel through China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to explore how tiger farms drive consumer demand for tiger products by perpetuating the illegal trade, in turn, fueling poaching.
Those farms see animals bred for trade in their parts and derivatives, with some 7-8,000 tigers believed to now be living in captivity throughout Asia.
Speaking to LADbible, Kane said: "When you hit the poachers on the very lowest level, you're not dealing with the problem; all you're doing is sticking plaster on something which is much, much bigger.
"The majority of people have heard about tiger poaching before, but they didn't know the reason why tiger poaching is on the increase is due to farming - and the traffickers pushing the product more, which then increases the demand for wild tigers."
Captive tigers are often bred and trafficked for illegal products like tiger bone wine and tiger bone glue (the latter of which Kane says is more like 'a tiger bone oxo cube'), which many believe have medicinal power.
But despite how revered and valuable their products are - with tiger glue often boasting a street value higher than cocaine - Kane was shocked to find the conditions the tigers themselves were sometimes kept in.
He said: "I think the hardest thing for me to see was probably the scale of the operations.
"We're not talking about an artisan production of sort of a fine wine; we're talking about a tiger farm with 200 tigers in them - all of them being bred to be killed for luxury products and wine.
"Even if wild tigers weren't endangered, the animal welfare issues that we saw across South East Asia were pretty grim.
:tiger2: - :tiger2:
An investigation into the illegal Tiger trade in South East Asia. Our film spanned 6 countries in the hunt for the Tiger traffickers.
:calendar_spiral: 4th March
:clock9: 9 P.M
.@grainmedia @laura1warner pic.twitter.com/Nci9FnZ1Z4
- Aldo Kane (@AldoKane) February 20, 2020
"The mistreatment of the animals in some places is so barbaric it's difficult to see. Some of the animals would be better off dead than being alive."
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One particularly harrowing scene in the documentary shows a tiger being fattened up with injections of liquid, becoming so large and bloated that it's barely able to move.
Kane said: "The tigers in Vietnam were clinically obese - they could hardly move.
"They're sold on the weight of the tiger, so they may have upped the price by a few thousand dollars by pumping it up with injections.
"The king of the jungle is reduced to a very, very overweight housecat in a cage. It's just grim to see."
Another moment sees Kane and his team capture secret footage of frozen tiger cubs kept at a breeding facility in Laos.
As Kane opens up the chest freezer, he says morosely: "Oh f***. Tiger cubs. Maybe tiger bones. There's three cubs in here."
Through the powerful film, Kane hopes to shed light on just how complex the illegal tiger trade is, and how blame doesn't necessarily fall on those who set the snare.
He said: "Ultimately, these tiger farms are what is creating and driving demand for tiger products, and where there's a demand for that product there will always be the rich elite who want wild tiger.
"When you see the guy on the ground who has set out 200 snares and has caught the tiger, you know he's feeding demand. If he wasn't there doing it someone else would get that tiger and get it to the market, so it's not really them that are the problem.
"If there wasn't a demand for the product in the first place, they wouldn't be getting poached. They would be much more valued as a tourist commodity or conservation commodity.
"The problem is the traffickers and the middle men and the manufacturers of the product - there are so many tiger products on the market.
"In Vietnam, tiger foetuses are now a thing. Ten years ago they weren't. That comes down to the fact there are more tiger farms. There are quiet a lot of miscarriages, and those are now being marketed.
"Governments need to stamp down on it, and they can. They did it with panda poaching, and now look at pandas in China.
"It is really down to re-education of the people using the products and also down to the governments to get involved.
"When it comes to tigers existing in the wild, we don't have very many years left."
Watch Tigers: Hunting the Traffickers on BBC Two at 9pm on 4 March.
Extinct: A race against time to save our endangered species. Read more from our campaign here.
Featured Image Credit: BBC