The Illegal Chinese Wine Made From Tiger Bones

“That tiger[. . .]When you look into his eyes you are seeing your own emotions reflected back at you.” —David Magee, Life of Pi (2012)

In A Nutshell

Despite a complete ban on trade in anything made from the big cats, China has a vibrant trade in wine and spirits made using tiger bones. The tiger parts are soaked in the liquid for a period of time, and the resulting liquid is sold for hundreds of dollars per bottle. In some secret auctions, the more expensive crates can go for over $30,000. The trade is supplied by tiger farms, and there are currently around 5,000 tigers being kept in captivity for this reason. The farms are officially tourist attractions, but the big cats end up being slaughtered, with their meat sold as food and their bones going to the drinks trade.

The Whole Bushel

Tigers are extremely endangered. Estimates for the number in the wild range from around 3,500 to 4,700. The number in captivity in China is around 5,000. That would be great if they were there for their own good. Unfortunately, many are simply bred to feed the lucrative demand for tiger bone wine, which is exactly what it sounds like. The bones of dead tigers are soaked in wine and sold as medicine. One animal park, Xiongsen Bear & Tiger Zoo, was found to be serving tiger meat as a snack and dropping the rest of the body into vats of wine.

Traditional Chinese medicine recommends the brew for a number of ailments. Arthritis and bone problems have an obvious superficial link. There are also the typical symptoms of life (like chills and fatigue) that are easy prey for sellers of snake oil.

The wine can sell for over $800 per bottle. For comparison, the average income of a family in China was $2,100 in 2012. The country’s wealthy middle-class patrons are the target: They attend auctions where crates of the drink are sold for over $30,000.

The whole thing is extremely illegal. All sales of tiger products were banned in China in 1993. Even selling products created before the ban came into place is against the law. London-based organization Environmental Investigation Agency is among the groups putting pressure on officials to stop the auctions.

They seem to be having some success. When a Guardian journalist showed up to an auction where tiger wine was supposed to be sold, he reminded them how they shouldn’t be doing it and alerted the authorities. Figuring that they’d been busted, the auction removed the products from those available that day. One disappointed customer commented that “it’s really good stuff, but I haven’t been able to buy any for a long time.”

Show Me The Proof

Scientific American: Wine Made from Tiger Bones
The Guardian: ‘It’s really good stuff’: undercover at a Chinese tiger bone wine auction
China allowing sale of tiger bone wine

  • inconspicuous detective

    the chinese have a history of doing this with every bone, even dinosaur (especially dinosaur, erm, “dragon”) bones and teeth. it’s a shame too — they’re destroying some of the only bits of history and wildlife that remain in the name of what? folk cures that don’t eve work? i suppose the irony is that using bones to cure illness will ultimately turn you into bones.

    • Nathaniel A.

      As far as I know, all studies as to their practical use have been inconclusive.

  • Idowu Opeyemi

    placebo effect is probably the cause of the exorbitant prices. its not scientifically specified if their is any cure or whatsoever associated with animal bones apart from the calcium reserve in the bones

  • 1DireWolf

    I think if someone wants Tiger Bone Wine, he should be given a sword and put into the pit with the tiger. If he lives he can have his sacrificial wine, if not another idiot claims the Darwin Award.

    • Mademoiselle

      You are too kind, I would say he should should kill the tiger with his bare hands to prove himself worthy of having said wine.

  • oouchan

    People suck. How can you look at such an animal and say…”I’ll think I’ll make a coat/wine/meal of that one.” Makes me sick. I’ll agree with 1DireWolf below…if they want to drink it so bad, fight a tiger and then you can have it.

    Grrr!

    • Joseph

      I think the only reason I’d agree is because they’re fewer tigers. I don’t really understand the concept of doing this to an animal population that’s already low. The people involved in this trade should be working to increase the population of tigers instead of working to make them more endangered. That way it might even be legal when the tiger population increases. The profit would be less, but the risk would be much lower and the increased quantity would mean more customers and a bigger supply. I guess it’s just a matter of instant gratification. I can’t really claim that I’m against it completely since I don’t put any more value on a tiger than a cow. Well, as I previously mentioned that would be aside from the fact that there’s a larger population of cows.

      • oouchan

        Agreed….only if they are hunted normally. Some of them are caged hunting. Animals in a cage are shot and used for trophies or wine in this case. There isn’t enough for this to continue. Rhinos…perfect example.

        • Joseph

          Yeah, caged hunting is strange. I don’t know why it would be useful as a trophy when the animal is shot in a cage. I don’t really understand the concept of trophies in hunting at all though. Hunting only makes sense to me for gathering food. It should be illegal to hunt endangered species, it doesn’t help anyone for them to be extinct. That’s true for everyone even though I believe the medicinal qualities of their bones is nonexistent. I think it’d do more good increase the population of those animals and set a quota in the future. Try to have more of the animals reproduce than hunted in any form. Sort of like deer are hunted in the US and see how that works. I think it’d be worth a try anyway. There’s always going to be a problem with poaching though so, I’ll admit that I have no idea how well that would work.

          • oouchan

            I ofen wondered about the cage one, too….until I found out that people say they went on a “hunt” but it was later found out they shot the animal in a cage. It’s all perception. Making one sound like a fierce hunter but all they ended up being was a pathetic piece of filth.

          • Joseph

            I suppose if they’re going to lie about it later, it would make more sense.

    • Scott

      The fact remains that Chinese people will eat or otherwise consume literally anything and everything that walks, crawls, swims, or slithers across this little world of ours.

  • Jhale

    It is possible that the bone marrow or something could provide the health benefits. However, it is clearly not worth the trouble to source this “wine” from only rare animal bones.

  • Tobias Green

    The fact of the matter is you cannot change a whole civilisations rules without a mass intervention