A Shanghaiist reader recently encountered people selling tiger claws on the road here in Shanghai. While this is an unfortunately common occurance (very much so around China and even in this city), this encounter is worthwhile as both a reminder of the situation tigers face and a warning about what you should (or shouldn’t do) when encountering the people selling illegal animal products.
As we noted last year, the tiger trade in China continues to be a big problem, despite being made illegal in 1993 – so much so that there may not be any of the animals left in the wild by the time the next Year of the Tiger rolls around. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like there’s much that can be done to protect them – At the most recent global summit on tiger conservation, China was hesitant on providing any solutions as the world’s No. 1 consumer of tiger parts.
And as our reader’s experience dictates, publicly confronting the people selling those parts isn’t likely to do much either. In fact it might be dangerous! As with all purveyors of an illegal trade, expect them to get slightly violent if you show too much (uncommercial) interest:
This morning I was crossing the pedestrian bridge over Yan’an lu at Huashan lu and saw two guys sitting on the bridge selling Tiger Claws! Aware of the danger tigers are in, I thought it would be useful to take some pictures of these guys and their products. Started with the first guy who was a bit startled, and then hurried over to the second guy…
The second guy was a bit quicker witted and to my surprise pulled a 30 cm knife on me (although he didn’t unsheathe it) and told me I shouldn’t take pictures. I stepped a bit closer to him securing myself and told him he shouldn’t sell tiger feet. At this point the second guy also entered the conversation and as they closed in, the situation became a bit intimidating. They started grabbing me, trying to take my camera (but not very convincingly) and the one with the knife punched me softly on the shoulder and pushed a little. I felt a bit helpless as in one hand I had my camera and my backpack was over only one shoulder, I wasn’t in a good position to defend myself if necessary.
I started to back out, but they followed me. The knife was now put away, but the other guy picked up a wedge-like piece of wood (can be seen in the picture). They said I should delete the pictures and the guy with the knife slapped me over the head with an open hand. To keep them quiet and at distance for a second and get myself more ready I said ok, but instead put the camera in my backpack strapped in on and tightened it. Then I slowly backed away facing them, at which point they decided not to pursue.
Our tipster may have gotten out of there just a little shaken, and we appreciate the bravado, but seriously – DON’T DO THAT. If you encounter tiger parts sellers, the best course of action is either to call the police (though we doubt the police will do much), or have it be a reminder to make a donation to either Wild Aid or TRAFFIC. If you’re really hoping for somebody to at least record the incident you saw, you can try TRAFFIC’s China HQ number: (86) 10 6522 7100 (3213).
But the unfortunate truth of the matter is, these tiger sellers are just normal people exploiting flaws in a system we all live in. Without anything to correct those flaws, you confronting them is about as wise as using a finger to plug a leaking dam.