Tiger bone wine 'fuelling illegal wildlife trade', ITV News investigation finds

A growing number of tiger farms in Asia is fuelling an illegal wildlife trade, an ITV News investigation has found.

The population of captive tigers is now double the number of wild tigers in the whole world.

Animal campaigners such as the WWF and Environmental Investigation Agency believe an international commercial trade in parts and derivatives from tigers is fulling the growth in tiger farms.

The sale of tiger bone wine was banned in China in 1993 - but a tiger park we visited this month in Harbin is claiming to sell such a product.

Using a secret camera, we filmed as one of the sellers of a souvenir shop told us the bottles in his stand contained tiger bone wine.

He even gave us a claw to prove it was from the animal.

And he told us he could get a tiger skin if we wanted, but that it was very expensive - £100,000.

A tiger's claw was also on sale. Credit: ITV News

Tiger bone wine is sold for it's bone-strengthening qualities.

Many Chinese people believe that the tiger is the strongest animal in the world, so drinking such a product will make them strong and ease conditions such as arthritis.

The cheapest bottle of wine was £50, but if you wanted it to contain a piece of bone you can pay up to £500.

They are most commonly bought as a gift, as a sign of wealth.

A box containing illegal tiger wine. Credit: ITV News
A tiger's bone is seen in the bottle of wine. Credit: ITV News

The Chinese Government has put laws in place to prevent such trade, but we’ve been told little is being done to enforce them.

Dr Xie Yanfrom the Chinese Science Academy told me that profits are preventing proper action from being taken.

"There’s too much money involved and too long a history, especially in the encouragement of breeding tigers."

Harbin Park denies selling tiger bone wine and insists its tigers are bred for conservation. Credit: ITV News

Earlier this month the Government announced a tightening of its wildlife laws.

But we’ve been told loopholes still exist to allow the trade of captive tiger parts.

They are facing intense international pressure to amend the law before it is introduced in January next year.

From what we saw in Harbin, there is also a serious welfare issue with the tigers.

Many looked in poor health and as one woman on our tiger tour said, the park itself was like a prison.

One visitor compared the tiger park to a prison. Credit: ITV News

One of the highlights of the tour is supposedly when meat is fed to the tigers through the tour bus cage.

However, the most distressing part of our visit was when a live chicken was thrown down a chute into the tiger enclosure.

The tigers had been teased with the squawking chicken for several minutes before it was thrown in to be savaged by the pack.

One of the lethargic looking tiger cubs handed out for photo opportunities. Credit: ITV News

On our way out we went past a stand where for £5, you can get to hold a baby tiger.

Two lethargic looking tiger cubs were handed out for a photo opportunity.

When we asked the Harbin Park to respond to what we filmed, they denied selling tiger bone wine and insisted their tigers are bred for conservation.

The evidence we gathered to the contrary will be used as part of an international campaign to stop tigers being bred for sale.