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Big cat trade driven by demand for traditional Asian medicine

Traditional Asian medicine is driving the growing international trade in big cat products and leading to the mistreatment of thousands of animals, according to a recent report.

Bones, blood, and other body parts of big cats are made into products such as balms, capsules, gels, and wines that practitioners of traditional Asian medicine believe to be able to cure ailments ranging from arthritis to meningitis, though in fact they’ve been found to have no provable health benefits. Even before the cats are killed, however, they’re treated more like products than living, breathing creatures, according to the report, released last month by the London-based NGO World Animal Protection.

In the report, the group says that its researchers discovered “an expanding, lucrative and largely hidden industry responsible for the appalling treatment of some of the world’s most iconic wild animals.” The report goes on to state: “Thousands of big cats, mostly lions and tigers, are being farmed in intensely cruel conditions and then traded both legally and illegally to fuel the highly lucrative global market for traditional Asian medicine products.”

In China, for instance, World Animal Protection’s researchers observed “industrial-style” cat farms that feature rows of 13-by-23-foot cells housing lions and tigers who are fed the bare minimum food and water necessary to keep them alive. In the wild, these animals would range across territories that extend for miles.

“Many were clearly emaciated with their ribs and back bones highly visible,” per the report. “The cruel, restrictive conditions caused the animals such distress that many were pacing backwards and forwards along in their shockingly small enclosures for hours. Pacing and self-harming (usually the biting of limbs and tails) in big cats are abnormal behaviours. They are reactions to confinement and stress that do not happen in the wild.”

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