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Killing Endangered Tigers, Just to Watch Them Die

Police broke up a ring of businessmen and officials in China who electrocuted at least 10 endangered tigers simply to witness their deaths.
Photo by Hein Waschefort

In the past century or so, the number of wild tigers in the world has dropped 97 percent — today, there are only about 3,200 left. And at least 10 of those were killed in China by a group of rich businessmen and influential officials, just so they could watch them die.

According to state media, the “visual feasts” were arranged in Zhanjiang, a city of 7 million people about 200 miles southwest of Hong Kong. When police staged a raid earlier this month, a freshly slaughtered tiger was discovered along with “multiple tiger products.” Video recovered that was shot two years ago depicted a tiger in a cage having an electrified hunk of iron shoved into its mouth. After being electrocuted for 10 seconds, the animal succumbed.

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The tigers, which can cost up to $50,000 on the black market, were supposedly delivered while anesthetized, but allowed to come to before being killed. Once butchered, the tiger’s meat sold for $73 per lb., while bones — they’re officially banned, but still especially popular in some traditional Chinese medicine — fetched an average of more than $1,000 per lb. A butcher who was present during the raid apparently attempted an ill-advised escape and leapt to his death.

It wasn't clear exactly what kind of tigers were killed, though the South China tiger once roamed in Guangdong, the province in which Zhanjiang is located. However, a wild South China tiger hasn't been spotted by scientists since the 1970s, and it has been listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since 1996, meaning it may very well already be extinct in the wild. Overhunting is largely to blame.

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