Wealthy people in China are buying illegal wildlife products that include the parts of endangered tigers, elephants, rhinos and bears. These items are increasingly seen as investments whose values will rise once the animals become extinct, according to activist website TakePart.
Warehouses across China currently house hundreds of tiger corpses soaked in bottles of herbs and rice wine. These bottles will eventually be sold for between $80 and $300. The longer the bottles sit out, the more valuable they become.
Ivory has also rose in popularity amongst the Chinese elite. As more collectors have entered the market, poaching of endangered species that supply ivory, like elephants and rhinos, have increased in order to meet demand. Back in 2006, the wholesale price for ivory was $564 per kilogram; today a kilogram costs $2,100.
Most of the illegal wildlife product trade is online. Products including elephant tusks, rhino horns, bear gallbladders and hornbill beaks have been seen for sale, according to Zhou Fei, who works for TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade-monitoring network in China.
Fei explained to TakePart that these products can be found on art collection websites, online forums like Baidu Tieba, the mobile phone messaging app Wechat, and even Facebook.
Prices on ivory pieces can range from $1,000 for a small ring to over $100,000 for a full rhino horn, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Last year, a 28-year-old former Chinese actress was arrested for selling illegal ivory products and other products made from endangered species via WeChat, according to China Daily. She had been in business since October 2013 and had made a profit of 450,000 yuan ($72,405) before she was caught.
Initially, illegal wildlife products were sought after because of the belief that consuming them resulted in certain health benefits. Over the last few years, however, these products have evolved into status symbols for the Chinese elite or investments for the middle class.
“The middle class aspires to becoming wealthy,” Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told TakePart.
According to Julian Newman, campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, wildlife products are also used as bribes:
“We’ve had many, many traders say that some of their customers want to provide ivory tusks or tiger-bone wine to government leaders or business contacts to create a chance of doing business.”
Although there have been recent efforts to track down and punish poachers, as well as activists working to toughen existing laws against the wildlife product trade in China, Zhou said a more multi-pronged approach needs to be taken:
“We need to address all of the parts in the puzzle: international pressure, behavior change, government leadership, capacity building in law enforcement, and revision of existing laws.”
However, time is running out.
“Elephants, rhinos, and tigers may not have many more years to wait for change. We haven’t got that much time for some of these species,” Newman said.