This morning, a video of Siberian tigers playfully hunting (and disemboweling) a drone was everywhere on the internet. A tweet from ITV News, a British television network, quickly made an appearance in dozens of stories.
"Wow, it's such a good video. All the beautiful tigers look up at the sky and run around. Eventually they get the drone, and get their heart rates up in the process. Good for them. Good for me," wrote The Verge.
But like so many good things online, this viral video is actually… bad.
John R. Platt, a science journalist, was the first to recognize the true origin of the footage: a tiger slaughter farm in northeast China called "Harbin Siberian Tiger Park." The full video was uploaded yesterday by Russia Today.
The tiger farm, according to Big Cat Rescue, has operated under the guise of an animal rescue for some time. Busloads of tourists are given the rare opportunity to gawk at fearsome felines that would otherwise rip your face off.
But Harbin Siberian Tiger Park also specializes in contraband like tiger bone, meat, pelts, and a speciality called "bone wine." A visit by McClatchy investigative reporters "found animals in deplorable conditions… merchants openly sold bone wine, despite a 1993 ban by China on bone products sourced from both domesticated and wild tigers."
Breeding captive tigers for the illegal trade of parts was condemned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2007. As a member of CITES, an international treaty that aims to protect wildlife and fauna from exploitation, China was strongly advised to shut down its remaining tiger operations.
In 2015, Harbin Siberian Tiger Park claimed to house 800 tigers on its property. It also keeps captive African lions, white tigers, and leopards.
Earlier this year, the Born Free Foundation, an animal welfare organization, raised concerns about photos of obese, "sick" tigers at the park.
"These tigers appear very obese, indicative of a wholly inappropriate and unnatural diet, woefully inadequate opportunities for natural behaviour and exercise, and the constants of captivity. In my view, this is not funny or 'cute.' These animals are ill," Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation, told Metro.co.uk.
So before you smash the share button, reconsider whether you want to drive more attention and tourism to a tiger farm. Chances are, if you felt a modicum of joy after watching that video, you probably don't.