Changing Planet

Tiger Farming Could Cause Irreversible Harm to Wild Tigers, World Bank Says

The risks of legalized farming of tigers are too great a gamble for the world to take, the World Bank told the 58th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Standing Committee, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland this week.

“We cannot know for sure if tiger farming will work. And if it does not work the downside risks are just too high–irreversible harm,” says a formal statement read to the CITES meeting yesterday by Keshav Varma, director at the World Bank and leader of the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative.


NGS stock photo of wild tigers in a pen by Michael Nichols

CITES is an international agreement between 175 governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.


The Bank’s position on tiger farming repudiates a controversial suggestion that poaching of wild tigers for traditional medicine and aphrodisiacs would diminish substantially if tigers, which breed prolfically in captivity, could be farmed–much like other animals are farmed for food.

“Tiger farming has proven to be a divisive issue and one that has distracted many in the conservation community from the common goal of saving wild tigers in their wild habitats, ” the Bank says in its statement.

tiger-picture-6.jpg“Too much faith has been placed lately upon the guidance that economics and market mechanisms can bring to this very complex issue.

NGS photo by Michael Nichols

“Economics is an extremely useful guide to policy, but as the World Bank can authoritatively say from the position of its vast professional and practical experience, narrow economic approach has its limits and it cannot meaningfully apply to this subject.

“There are clever theories that tell us that tiger farming is and could become the panacea for conservation. But there are an equal number of experts and theories who inform us otherwise.

“This is not surprising. There are myriad unknowns and even more unknowables that no amount of research can cast light upon.”


NGS photo of seized illegally traded tiger parts by Michael Nichols

World Bank identifies serious risks in tiger farming:

  • Will legalized farming facilitate laundering?
  • Would it create new markets and an even higher demand for wild tiger products–for those who want a luxury good–the “real thing”?
  • And why if farming is so effective are wild bears still poached when there is a surplus of farmed bear bile in the world?

“The truth is that we cannot provide answers to these counterfactuals that can only be known after the fact,” the bank says in its statement.

“And this is why we need to exercise caution. Extinction is irreversible, so prudence and precaution suggest that the risks of legalized farming are too great a gamble for the world to take.

NGS photo by Michael Nichols

“We cannot know for sure if tiger farming will work. And if it does not work the downside risks are just too high–irreversible harm.”

Having carefully weighed the economic arguments, the Bank says, it urges the CITES community to uphold the ban on wild tiger products and for all countries to continue to ban the domestic trade of wild tigers.

“We also call upon the international community at large to join efforts in providing the necessary technical and other support to the respective countries in phasing out tiger farming. This is the only safe way to ensure that wild tigers may have a future tomorrow.”

The World Bank’s statement was endorsed by WWF International, a global environmental organization with headquarters in Switzerland.

“Stopping all trade in tiger parts, and phasing out these tiger farms, is of the utmost urgency if the tiger is to survive in the wild.”

“Stopping all trade in tiger parts, and phasing out these tiger farms, is of the utmost urgency if the tiger is to survive in the wild”, said Susan Lieberman, director of the Species Programme of WWF International, “It is time for the world community to join together, with tiger range state governments, to stop all poaching of tigers for illegal trade, and WWF welcomes the engagement of the World Bank in these efforts”.

Tiger trade is prohibited internationally and banned domestically in all of its range countries, including China–historically the largest market for tiger products, WWF said. 

“However, owners of privately run tiger farms and a contingent of wealthy business men across China have been pressuring the Chinese government to allow legal trade in tiger parts within China and lift its domestic tiger trade ban, implemented in 1993.”


National Geographic Magazine published a cover story about wild tigers in December, 1997. “No one knows how many wild tigers exist today,” the article said.

“The commonly cited estimate of 5,000 to 7,000 is a guess, since census methods can be faulty, some governments inflate numbers, and cat experts may understate numbers for fear of losing protected status.

“What is certain: If tigers are to survive in the wild, they need massive human intervention.”

Save the Tiger Fund, a program of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundaton, estimates that there were less than 5,000 tigers left in the wild by 2005–down from an estimated 100,000 in 1980. Only two countries had populations of more than 500 wild tigers.

By contrast, according to Save the Tiger Fund, there were more than 15,000 tigers in farms, safari parks, and menageries.

Video: Tiger Eye: Up Close and Personal
Watch how National Geographic photographers used motion-sensitive cameras to capture tigers in the wild.

More from National Geographic News:

India’s Tigers Number Half as Many as Thought

Chinese Tigers Learn Hunting, Survival Skills in Africa

As Tigers Disappear, Poachers Turn to Leopards in India

Black Market Tigers Linked to Thai Temple, Report Says

Saving Jaguars, Tigers Can Prevent Human Diseases?

Captive Tigers Harbor Rare “Purebred” Genes

Tiger Habitat Plummeted 40 Percent in 10 Years, Survey Finds

Siberian Tigers Stable, According to Landmark Survey

Big Cats Kept as Pets Across U.S., Despite Risk

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
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