The global population of wild tigers has dropped precipitously over the last century, from about 100,000 to fewer than 3,500. According to the wildlife advocacy group TRAFFIC, at least 200 tiger carcasses were seized from the illegal trade worldwide last year. Vietnam is one of 13 countries with wild tigers, but they number less than 50 in Vietnamese territory, according to government figures.
Wildlife advocates say Vietnam's tiger farms have high mortality rates and cannot possibly sustain their reported populations without sourcing smuggled tigers, which they say often enter the country via its mountainous border with Laos — a country ranked the third worst offender on WWF's wildlife crime report.
According to Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, 49 of the 112 tigers living on the 11 registered tiger farms were born in captivity.
Tiger farm manager Luong Thien Dan said tigers at his farm typically die after fighting or when mothers neglect to breastfeed cubs, and that all dead tigers are cremated under supervision from local authorities.
He told the AP that he couldn't recall how his farm acquired its first cubs, nor how many tigers have died since the farm opened.
Dan says the farm covers expenses — raw meat runs about 150 to 200 million dong ($7,200 to $9,600) per month — with profits that his cousin, Ngo Duy Tan, earns as a beer keg manufacturer. The rusty tiger cages sit on Pacific Beer Company's 7,000 square meter (75,000 square foot) property, across a parking lot from silver brewing tanks and a giant pile of malt.
Farm management hopes to open an ecotourism park to showcase its tigers, but Dan said the farm's future is uncertain because it has only a temporary permit from the prime minister. Dan said he would welcome a government move to legalize the selling of tiger parts for use in traditional medicine.
"It would be good for society and for us," he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.