by Keith Thomson, journalist for the Huffington Post. This is an outtake of his original article published on Feb. 18, 2009:
The popularity of exotic pets--tigers in particular--is surging, perhaps attributable to a popular mindset that bigger and badder is better. As one owner exclaimed, "Tigers are the new pit bulls."
Even more troubling than such owners for Murphy are people who buy the animals without any intention of keeping them. He knows of a rural route, where, if you follow the hand-painted EXOTIC ANIMALS FOR SALE placard, you'll come to a dilapidated cattle barn. Inside you'll find a scene he characterizes as a flea market, with individuals bidding on big cats for "canned hunts." Tigers usually go for $300 to $400.
The winners haul them to a remote area, loose them from their cage, then go hunting. Sort of. Having spent their lives in captivity, and the days prior to the auction in confines too small for them to stand, the cats often don't run.
And then there are the profiteers. Certain taxidermists have been known to buy a tiger and keep it until it's sufficiently plumped, at which point they kill it, stuff it and sell it as a trophy.
Other profiteers, sometimes fronted by bogus animal sanctuaries, will straightaway snuff and "part out" a tiger, selling everything from the hide (for as much as $15,000) to the penis, for which there is great demand among practitioners of Chinese Medicine who believe it to have an effect similar to Viagra's.The BBC reported on a restaurant in Beijing offering the organ for $5,700.
In the same circles, ingesting tigers' eyes is thought to improve vision. The whiskers supposedly remedy toothaches. And the brain? Cures laziness--and pimples too.
These theories are quickly repudiated by the vast majority of physicians practicing Chinese medicine. Regardless, a single tiger's parts can fetch $40,000 to $50,000.
Both canned hunts and "parting out" are illegal because tigers are an endangered species. Until exotic pet ownership requirements stem the supply, however, the United States will remain a major big-cat black market.
"Indifference is the biggest obstacle to legislation," legendary animal rescuer Carolyn Atchison told me. "The issue doesn't affect most people's lives, so they're not aware of it. The need is to raise public awareness."
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