Lion cub locked in cage

Animal Cruelty: Endangered Lions & Tigers Used in Chinese Medicine



There’s a roaring illegal trade in endangered big cats killed for traditional Chinese medicine, and it’s clawing its way from Asia to across the globe.

Traditional Asian Medicine

Traditional Asian medicine is based on an entirely different concept to modern medicine, and, with about 2,000 years of history is of immense importance to many people

Most remedies don't contain wild animal products and often are entirely non-animal based, put there are some that do, and the cast to wildlife is unimaginable. You can read more on this in our article here.

Non-Animal Products

Plant-based traditional medicine has been used for many years, and will no doubt continue to be used for many more. Many herbal remedies are known to have curative properties and are popular with many communities around the world.  

Having the choice to decide which treatment is right for you can only be a good thing – except when wildlife is involved. 

Animal Products 

Sadly, some of the traditional practices exploit wild animals, cause immense suffering, and are bringing numerous species to the brink of extinction despite little evidence to support its medicinal properties. 

  • Bears are locked up in small coges their entire lives, having their bile painfully harvested from surgical openings in their abdomen
  • The last remaining thinos are being brutally killed and their borns hacked off
  • Pangolins being captured and killed for their scales to be spia on the black market
  • Lions, tigers and other big cals are being poached and even formed for their bones. You can read about this in our article here.

This is completely unnecessary, there are synthetic and plant-based alternatives available for the alliments these products are being consumed for.

Tiger product used for traditional medicine

Tiger oil made from tiger fat sold in El Campesino market, Bolivia.Still from the film Jaguar Spirit World Animal Protection/Botanica Films/Thomas Poole

Traditional and Modern Medicine

Traditional Asian medicine is based on an entirely different concept to modern medicine, and, with about 2,000 years of history, is of immense importance to many people.

Science has provided us with extensive medical breakthroughs and research which eliminate the need to use wild, endangered animals, such as lions and tigers in medicine.

People are living longer, survival rates are higher, and there are cures and remedies for so many illnesses. Modern medicine has given us many gifts, but at the same time, ancient remedies containing animal products are still popular across Asia.

Plant-based traditional medicine has been used for many years, and will no Roubt continue to be used for many more. Many herbal remedies are known to have curative properties and are popular with many communities around the world.

Having the choice to decide which treatment is right for you can only be a good thing- except when our endangered wildlife is threatened.

A huge industry

It is estimated that the traditional Asian medicine industry is worth upwards of $50 to $1201 billion USD globally. Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO), endorsed the practice of traditional despite a surge of criticism.

A global threat to endangered big cats

Habitat loss, hunting and human wildlife conflicts are the main drivers of these declines, but another threat is the growing market for their body parts. Now that demand is outstripping supply in Asia, it has become a global issue.

Big cat numbers have been freefalling into oblivion over the last century. Wild tigers are just shy of 4,000. For lions, there’s about 20,000 left in the wild – down from about 200,000 a century ago.

Jaguars in Suriname

Last year, we revealed that, even thousands of miles away, in the small country of Suriname in South America, jaguars are being poached from the wild for this industry.

Their carcasses are boiled down into a paste, then smuggled into China in tubs, to supposedly treat the same ailments as tiger products, with a steep price tag attached.

Watch our Jaguar documentary here


A poached jaguar for medicine in Suriname, South Africa

Lions in South Africa

In South Africa, lion cubs are used for petting and ‘walking with lions’ experiences at tourist venues. When they get too big, they are used for ‘canned hunting’ – where hunters pay large sums of money for a guaranteed kill as the lions are trapped.

Their bones are then harvested and exported to Asia, which is legal in South Africa. In 2018, South Africa exported 1,500 lion skeletons.

Find out more about World Lion Day

Lion cubs huddled together at a facility in South Africa - Traditional medicine - World Animal Protection

Lions huddled in a facility in South Africa - image credit: Blood Lions

Tigers in China

In China, it’s thought there’s over 6,000 tigers in factory style farms – more than the wild population. They are kept in cramped, barren concrete enclosures, unable to behave naturally, suffering physically and mentally.

Some are kept in entertainment facilities and forced to perform tricks for tourists, who then drink the tonics and wines made from their ancestors’ bones. This is exploitation and its greediest, and cruellest.

Lions in a South African farm

Tigers trapped in a breeding facility in China

Big cat farms don’t save wildlife

There is a misguided belief that big cat farms ease the pressure on wild populations. However, our study shows that there is a clear preference for big cat products from wild cats over farmed, with almost nine in ten Vietnamese, and over half of Chinese consumers confirming.

So, farms are not only cruel and legitimise a practice that should be phased out, but are also fuelling the popularity of these products, and ultimately the poaching of more wild animals.

China's ban on the use of tiger bones and rhino horns

We are doing all we can to save these animals, but it’s an uphill battle. Consider that 25 years ago, China banned all domestic trade of rhino horns and tiger bones, throwing these incredible animals a much-needed lifeline.

But at the end of 2019, the ban was lifted to allow the use for medical treatment of farmed tiger parts, which has undone years of progress.

As of 2020, China bans wildlife trade due to coronavirus outbreak. We recommend keeping in the history of the ban, the lift of the ban (and include what year) and the relist of the ban due to Covid.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Promising Plant-based Future?

Wildlife. Not medicine.

Regardless of whether they are taken from the rainforests of South America, the plains of Africa, or farmed in China – big cats are wildlife, not medicine.

For us, our supporters and no doubt, many others, it’s clear that these incredible animals deserve a life worth living and belong in the wild.

We need to speak up for these animals, who themselves, do not have a voice. We need to move the world to act now and protect these animals, because time is running out.

Hero image credit: Blood Lions

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