China Is Turning Tiger Bones Into Wine

Chinese brewers are making wine from tiger bones despite specific regulations against the trade in tiger bones. And it's not technically illegal, since they're not actually selling the bones. What?

The tigers' modern plight in China began in 1959 when tigers were targeted for eradication by Mao's "Great Leap Forward," and in the more than fifty years since, things haven't gotten much better. Just a few weeks ago, according to a BBC report, a Chinese delegate at a meeting of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) publicly admitted - for the first time, ever - that China doesn't ban the trade of tiger skins. Most of them are derived from tigers bred in captivity specifically for the use of tiger parts in Traditional Chinese Medicine or for other purposes. But tiger bones are, in fact, not supposed to traded.

In 1993, China banned the use of tiger bone for medicinal purposes, though the ban wasn't well very enforced. Even still, the bones from captive bred tigers whose bodies are used for other legal purposes, have not been destroyed. A massive stockpile of tiger bones thus exists, according to a report issued by the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that documented the Chinese tiger trade. Then, according to the EIA, there was a "secret" permit in 2005 that allowed some businesses to breed endangered species, including tigers, for the use of captive-bred tiger bone for medicinal purposes. It was ostensibly part of a pilot program.

And it was that, according to Daily Beast writer Brendon Hong, that encouraged the tiger bone wine industry. As a part of their investigation, the EIA discovered that tiger bone wine makers market "real tiger bone wine" as a luxury indulgence for only the most elite consumers.

Fans of the drink believe that it can boost qi, improve circulation, cure arthritis, and strengthen the body in general. Like blood ivory, some see it as a status symbol due to its perceived prestige and ballooned financial value. Others are drawn to it because of the sense of dominance they think the drink provides. "If I ever had to face that thing," Li Wen said as he pointed to the tiger bone steeping in his vat of rice wine, "it would kill me. But now it's in a jar, like I tamed it." He believes that consuming the spirit on a regular basis gives him the strength of a tiger and the senses of a predator. "I'm a better businessman because of it."

As recently as 2011, large public auctions that included tiger bone wine in the lots still took place. At times, the events were even advertised on state television stations. As conservation groups publicly condemned the auctions, the trade moved online—still blatant, still brazen, but less of a frontal assault on reasonable senses.

The bottles don't include tiger bones on the list of ingredients. That's because, after the steeping process, the bones are often removed and returned to the stockpiles from which they came (see page 2 of the EIA report). That's how the industry can justify it; they're not actually selling tiger bones, per se.

Read the entire chilling tale at The Daily Beast.

Header image: Tambako/Flickr.