Sounds like an easy choice, no? Unfortunately, humans have already decided to kill the tigers rather than saving them. Fewer than 4,000 wild tigers survive on the planet. As journalist Caroline Alexander wrote in a compelling article in the December issue of National Geographic, "tigers in the wild face the black abyss of annihilation." And their greatest threat, she writes, is "the brutal Chinese black market for tiger parts."
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners claim that tiger parts can be used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including malaria, bacterial infections, bad skin, ulcers, leprosy, and impotence. There is not a whit of scientific evidence to support any of these claims; they are nothing more than folk medicine, based on primitive beliefs dating from a pre-scientific era, when it was believed you could acquire the properties of an animal by eating it. Unfortunately, these beliefs have driven the mightiest of the big cats to the brink of extinction.
The World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies asked its members to stop using tiger bones last year, but their action is far too little, too late. The New York Times reported around the same time that tiger-based "medicines" are widely available in China.
Proponents of Traditional Chinese Medicine claim that it is beneficial, but they have no science to back them up. NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), an apologist for all sorts of quack medical practices, explains that
"In the TCM view, a vital energy or life force called qi circulates in the body through a system of pathways called meridians. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi."This is little more than fantasy. Too bad NCCAM's leaders seem to have forgotten whatever they knew about human physiology. They might just as well explain that midi-chlorians circulating in the blood are the source of the Force. (Actually, there are midichlorians in nature now, in a species of tick. Really.)
Some forms of "alternative medicine" are ineffective but mostly harmless (think homeopathy, which is just water and sugar pills), while others can be harmful to the patients who use them (think acupuncture, with its risk of infection, or ayurveda, which uses toxic chemicals). TCM is doubly harmful: it doesn't benefit patients, and it is the single greatest threat to the world's tigers. I hope people come to their senses before the last tiger is gone.