For over two million years, tigers have roamed the jungles and rugged mountain ranges of Asia, living in a variety of terrains ranging from dense evergreen forest to coastal swamps. In recent times, however, their numbers have fallen dramatically. Of the eight sub-species, which existed at the turn of the last century, three are now extinct whilst their population in the wild has fallen from approximately 100,000 to 7,000. Nowadays tigers are largely confined to small isolated pockets of land, mainly in India, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia and the Russian Far East.
Amongst the major threats facing tigers‚ habitat are deforestation, population growth, agriculture and large-scale development projects such as dams, mines and commercial logging. Poaching for skins used as trophies and rugs, and the demand for tiger body parts, primarily the bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is now considered the main threat to the species survival.
Bones are currently the most valued part of the tiger and are used primarily for traditional medicinal tonics.
Below are descriptions of what each particular bone or part of a tiger is used for:
1. Humerous Bone: The most valued bone of a tiger. The humerous bone, the upper bone of the front legs, has the highly prized ‘Phoenix Eye’, identified by the small hole at the distal end of the bone.
2. Clavical Bone (collar bone): A highly valued symbol of power.
3. First Rib Bone: The small first rib bones of the Tiger are known as "Tiger strength" and are soaked in wine to make a strength-giving tonic.
4. Penis: Regarded as the ultimate aphrodisiac.
5. Claws: Used as amulets and jewellery.
6. Skin: Decoration, symbol of power and status. Often used in religious amulets for protection.
7. Teeth: Powerful protective amulets and jewellery.
8. Meat: Gourmet delicacy. Also used for treating nausea and Malaria and improving vitality.
9. Whiskers: Cure for toothaches.
10. Brain: Cure for laziness and pimples.
Tourists posing for photos with tigers in a temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. A B500 (US$15) fee is charged per photo session.
A tiger lies in a freezer at a police station on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam. In a highly publicized case, Khau and accomplices broke into the Dong Tam Snake Farm in Tien Giang to poison, disembowel and transport a tiger to Dong Nai to be sold for VND180 million (US$11,250). As tiger numbers drop in the wild, traders will start to look else where for tiger parts.
WFFT rehabilitation centre, Thailand. Meaw was kept chained behind a petrol station in Chonburi, Thailand to attract customers. He now has brain damage due to mistreatment and malnutrition.