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Behind rusted bars, a skeletal male tiger lies panting on the filthy concrete floor of his cage, covered in sores and untreated wounds. The most valuable parts, however, are the bones, which are used to make wine that is said to cure rheumatism and arthritis, and prolong life. Tiger bone wine, made by steeping tiger bones in huge vats of potent 38 per cent-proof rice wine, has for more than 2,000 years been one of the most expensive and sought-after Chinese traditional medicines, believed to bestow the tiger's power and strength upon the taker.
Then a ramshackle carnival float decorated with pictures of tigers is led out with a collection of big cats cowering on its deck where they are forced by park keepers to stand up on their hind legs, and beaten with wooden stakes if they do not obey.
Welfare expert David Neale from Animals Asia, said after inspecting the park: 'These animals are kept in appalling conditions and it is clear that many are suffering from malnutrition.
Miss Li assures us that if we buy here, our tiger wine comes with a cast-iron guarantee of quality. As I took pictures of the outside of the sales office, I was approached by two security guards who demanded to look at my camera and insisted I deleted any pictures of the building. The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline. His once-fearsome body is so emaciated it is little more than a pitiful pile of fur and bones. Despite its rapid modernisation, the use of traditional medicine in China has increased rather than declined because more people can afford exotic treatments. It is popular among wealthy middle-aged men including, reportedly, some of the Communist Party's senior officials and is said to have been used by modern China's founder Chairman Mao Tse-Tung himself, in the superstitious belief that it counters the effects of ageing and boosts flagging sex drive.
Parents clap and shriek with laughter while children look on with bemused grins as the daily ritual is performed. And if what the public can see is so appalling, can you imagine what the conditions are like for the tigers hidden from view?' Ironically, the park is littered with billboards proclaiming the owners' desire to protect wildlife. They held me for 20 minutes and made frantic phone calls before letting me go once they were satisfied my camera's memory was empty. Because of the scarcity of tigers, a single bottle of tiger bone wine from a rare vintage year can sell for A?600 or more. A closer look reveals that one of the performing tigers has a tumour on his left leg the size of a football.
At the end of their tour of the park, visitors are directed to a 'science hall' where a complete tiger skeleton is displayed in a Perspex case. Wardens at the wildlife park in southwest China say, indifferently, that they do not expect him to see the start of the Year of the Tiger which began last Sunday.


As well as a supposed medical remedy, it is a prestigious drink sometimes shared between men at high-level political or business meetings, or drunk at lavish parties. The Guilin park, whose owner boasts of how he has served tiger wine to some of China's top leaders, has been given a A?700,000 government grant to build new cages for its 'scientific research'. This shabby, rundown park in Guilin - one of China's main tourist cities - is home to the world's biggest single collection of tigers. The lucrative trade has accelerated the disappearance of all but a handful of China ' s remaining wild tigers as peasants turn poachers to track down the animals, knowing just one will make them more money than a farmer can earn in a decade.
We saw some of those new cages being put to use during our visit, housing up to ten animals each as the park's breeding programme continues apace.
Millionaire Zhou Weisen, who is 47 and was born in the Year of the Tiger himself, realised at an early age he could make his fortune by keeping tigers in wretched captivity. The majority are hidden from sight in row after row of cages outside the public area of the park.
China's government has stubbornly resisted attempts to stop the illicit trade in tiger parts. For here, 1,500 captive tigers - around half as many as there are thought to be remaining in the wild - live out miserable lives in squalid conditions. He opened the Guilin park with 60 tigers in 1993, breeding them intensively so their numbers boomed to today's population of 1,500.
The factory sells around 200,000 bottles a year and keeps up to 600 tiger skeletons at a time in huge vats. Despite grudgingly introducing legislation banning the use of tiger bones in medicine, China argued at an international convention in 2007 that the ban on trading tiger parts had 'seriously impacted not only Chinese traditional culture but also the medicinal treatment and health care of the Chinese people'. Each tiger costs around A?6 a day to feed, and it is easy to see that the small clusters of visitors paying A?7.50 each to wander around the cages and watch bizarre animal shows cannot possibly cover even the cost of food for the vast park. The park has the atmosphere of a medieval circus, with animals treated in a way that would cause outrage in any western country. Others are kept locked in small, concrete enclosures, spending their days in perpetual darkness.
We serve it to them whenever they visit.' Cutting hurriedly to the chase before the next group of guests finish their tour of the park and enter the science hall, she then offers the tiger wine in three, six and nine-year vintages at A?60, A?92 and A?185 a bottle. The underground caverns, where witnesses have reported seeing entire tigers in 5ft high vats, are strictly off limits to visitors. Tigers, the Chinese government argued to the astonishment of delegates from other countries, should be treated like crocodiles and farmed for their bones and skin.


Twice a day, a few relatively tame tigers are put on leashes and led out to amuse small groups of visitors. They occasionally jump up on their hind legs to peer through narrow, slit windows, to get a rare glimpse of daylight. Perhaps fittingly, China itself is likely to be one of the first countries to feel the effect of the trade in tiger parts. For the equivalent of A?1.80 a time, parents and their children get the opportunity to feed strips of beef to a scrawny, undernourished young tiger in the care of a park keeper who, with no sense of irony, tells them the tiger is a 'symbol of power in the animal kingdom'. One week into the Year of the Tiger, its own tiger population is on the brink of extinction.
Dead tigers are driven 200 miles from the park, officially called the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village, to a huge subterranean complex where their fur is stripped from their carcasses and their bones collected to make tiger wine that can sell for A?185 a bottle.
Factory sales manager Miss Wang told our interpreter over the phone: 'If you want to be a distributor, the licence will cost you 150,000 yuan (A?14,000) a year for a provincial capital-and 80,000 yuan (A?7,500) for a smaller city.
Aside from the threat of hunting, there has been urbanisation, and the bizarre 1959 decision by Chairman Mao to declare the tiger 'an enemy of the people'.
So for the park, where the tigers are bred for their bones, every year is the Year of the Tiger, and conservationists fear that the vile trade could be helping push some species of wild big cat into extinction. A provincial sole distributor licence costs five million yuan (A?468,000) a year.' The factory's products are showcased in a sales office in the nearby town of Pingnan, where a variety of bottles of tiger bone wine are on show for potential buyers. Half a century later, as the trade in tiger bones puts a huge price on the head of the remaining few wild Chinese tigers, Ms Robinson and other conservationists believe the fate of the tiger in China is sealed. On paper, China has signed international wildlife treaties that ban all trade in tiger body parts and claims to have outlawed the industry. But even here, deep in the Chinese countryside, the trade in tigers is a secret guarded with paranoid intensity. In reality, Xiongshen and other parks like it operate in a grey area of the law, using the bones of animals that have died naturally in captivity to produce 'medicinal' wine, apparently with the government's blessing.
Their eyeballs are used to treat epilepsy, their bile to stop convulsions, their whiskers to sooth toothache and their penises as a potent sexual tonic.



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