THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Genetic experts have found evidence a restaurant in China has served tiger meat in defiance of a 1993 ban, a U.N. expert said on Tuesday.
John Sellar, the senior enforcement officer for the Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), said the tiger farm he visited in China “vehemently denied” serving big cat meat in a linked restaurant.
But evidence compiled after he visited the Guangxi Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Garden this year backed up a report by Britain’s ITN television that the restaurant had tiger on the menu, he told a CITES meeting.
Sellar sent a copy of a genetic laboratory report made on a sample of meat obtained by ITN to experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who confirmed the study was properly carried out and the results matched tiger DNA, he said.
China has said it is investigating the charges. All international trade in tiger meat is banned under CITES and China outlawed all domestic sales in 1993.
Beijing told CITES last week it would allow trade in parts from captive-bred tigers if a scientific review proved the step would reduce poaching and help tigers worldwide.
China says it has 5,000 captive tigers in farms, by some experts’ estimates more than the total left in the wild across Asia after decades of hunting and destruction of habitats.
Neighbouring nations including India fear sales could mean more poaching in the region — if sales are legal in China, it probably costs less to shoot an Indian tiger and transport it to China than to raise it from a cub in a Chinese farm.
“The farm we visited is actively hoping to take part in trade,” Sellar said. “Of greater concern is that this facility has begun to engage in trade in tigers.”
Tiger bones have long been a valued ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine used in the forms of wines, powder, balms and pills to cure illnesses ranging from rheumatism to general weakness, headaches and paralysis.
China joined India, Nepal and Russia in a draft document on Tuesday at CITES saying countries should limit farmed populations to “a level supportive only to conserving wild tigers”.