I'm watching a documentary on National Geographic on a case where they were tracking down a gang trading in tigers in Thailand. It was claimed that tiger farms, who has the purpose of breeding tigers for trade drive up demand and further hurt the wild tiger population. Is there any basis for that?

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    No references, so it's just a comment. Feel free to build on this: With tiger farming trade in tiger skins etc will be allowed again. If it can't be regulated so that wild tiger skins are kept out of the market, then yes, it could lead to increased poaching. On the other hand, tiger farming should also drive the prices down, which would decrease poaching. Which of these effects win is impossible to say without trying. – Lennart Regebro May 28 '11 at 11:56
  • 'rather than poaching live ones' - The ones being bred would be alive too (until they're killed), if you call that living. – ChrisW May 28 '11 at 12:51
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    I think that's the reason why any/all trade in, for example, elephant ivory is illegal: because you can't tell the difference between ivory that's legally obtained, or that's been poached. – ChrisW May 28 '11 at 15:36
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    This seems to be a straightforward question about economics. What sort of evidence would you accept, in either direction? – Oddthinking Feb 4 '13 at 11:47
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    I guess I am wondering why it has to be animals. It could be done with the supply of any product or service with illegal alternatives - drugs, prostitution, rubbish bins outside corner stores... This is why I see it as an economics question. – Oddthinking Feb 4 '13 at 12:37

The issue is not simple and straightforward. This strange desire to eat tiger body parts has deep roots in our prehistory. Eating body parts of good fighters was believed to give courage and power in many tribes. Ainus from North Japan worship bears, and on a bear festival (their central festival) they ritually kill a bear and eat it as sign of great respect and love. If you disgusted by this idea, think of millions of Catholics who participate in Eucharist, which is a ritual of eating the body and drinking the blood of the Savior. In cultures where people had connections with tigers, these majestic animals were universally revered and perceived as gods. So today, when many Chinese believe tiger body parts have some mysterious qualities, this comes from this ancient religious belief, and unfortunately, explaining that eating tiger body parts cannot help health problems is as fruitless as bringing atheistic arguments to the believers. So what to do about the tiger farms? Elimination of all tiger farms will drive the tiger poaching at the National Parks, where tigers are free, at much higher level, as the price for tiger bodies will soar. One possibility would be to have a capital punishment for tiger poachers and those in this trade, not the small penalty which is 1000 times less than the price for the tiger body. Are we ready for this? If we are not ready to put to death all poachers and all illegal trade participants, and if we still want wild tigers to roam free on our planet, I think we should allow tiger farming. At the same time we must make sure that tigers have decent living conditions on the farms. Do not forget, people involved in tiger poaching will be voting for tiger farm closure, as closing tiger farms will drive up the demand and prices on their “product.” It is truly horrible that we are facing such a problem, which makes any decision very difficult…

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    Welcome to Skeptics! This isn't a full referenced answer, but more of an opinion piece. When you get enough reputation, you will be able to comment rather than answer. – Oddthinking Feb 4 '13 at 11:43
  • Your analogy comparing actually eating endangered species to eating wafer crackers and drinking wine and declaring them to be supernaturally the blood and body of Christ needs a lot of work to be convincing. – Oddthinking Feb 4 '13 at 11:46
  • @Oddthinking - Bengal Tigers were not always endangered. In fact it was after the invention of the modern high powered rifle that really hurt them. Before a regular rifle was often not enough to take down a tiger. These practices go back to before the west came to the east. – Chad Feb 4 '13 at 22:25
  • @Chad: I think habitat loss had a big part, too. But that is about tigers. The analogy was with bears. I still don't think the analogy is very strong. It's like arguing: "If you find the idea of arson disgusting, remember that in some cultures, ripping up pieces of cardboard and throwing them away is acceptable." It's a non-sequitur. – Oddthinking Feb 4 '13 at 23:12
  • @Oddthinking - I think if you have tigers protecting the habitat then you have less habitat loss. The fact that we have weapons now that we did not have 70 years ago before the habitat was really encroached on, allows us to take out the threats to the workers clearing the habitat. – Chad Feb 5 '13 at 15:48

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