After leaving Mr. T’s residence, the bus driver took an undercover Tuoi Tre journalist to a house in Dien Thap commune, just one kilometer from Vach Bac hamlet. When they stopped in front of a local house, the driver said: “A tycoon is cooking tiger bone paste there. Feel free to go in.”
A moment later the house’s owner, named Q and dressed in shorts, shook our hands and pointed at a large boiling pot nearby saying: “I’ve cooked the bones of a 200kg wild tiger for two days in this pot.”
Around the pot, there were three stuffed tigers whose bones had already been boiled.
The stuffed tigers, along with stuffed bears and chamois and two expensive cars, are now displayed in Q’s house as a symbol of his wealth and status.
The reporter also saw a stuffed tiger head with its mouth wide open on the floor, which Q. said was the head of the large tiger whose bones were currently being cooked. Q. even showed us a smelly pelt hung up on a string which had been removed from the animal.
The coat of a tiger that was killed for meat and bones. Photo: Tuoi Tre
“The tiger bone paste in the pot is worth VND1 billion (US$48,000) in total. This was made from real tiger bones, not from miscellaneous bones of other animals. Members of the elite have ordered it. Because the bone paste is for them, I have to gain their trust. When we have available bone paste, they buy it at VND20 million ($960) per ounce without hesitation,” Q said.
The tiger bone paste in the pot (R) is worth VND1 billion ($48,000). Photo: Tuoi Tre
Inside the pot where tiger bone paste is cooked. Photo: Tuoi Tre
There are many manufacturers of tiger bone paste in Dien Thap and Do Thanh communes, but they often have Q cook or determine whether bones are from tigers or not.
Q. revealed a secret of how to cook tiger bones effectively: “When you have real tiger bones, you need to clean the meat off the bones and its medulla so that the bone paste can be a panacea. Tiger bone paste is used to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism.”
Even when he saw the journalist taking photos, Q simply laughed as if nobody could punish him.
“Authorities at the commune, district and province levels are my “close friends”. If inspectors from a ‘ministry’ come, someone will inform me ahead of time,” Q revealed.
Q. is a well-known tiger bone paste cooker in Dien Thap commune, but he has never bought caged tigers in the farms based in Do Thanh commune. Instead, Q. purchases wild tigers smuggled to the commune.
According to Q., bone paste made from wild tigers is better quality and more profitable than that from farmed tigers. A 100kg tiger has 6 kilograms of bones, equivalent to 10.8 ounces (1kg = 1.8 ounces) of paste, while a wild tiger with the same weight has 10 kilograms of bones equivalent to 30 ounces (1kg = 3 ounces) of paste.
“The bones of wild tigers are much thicker and longer than those of caged tigers. Some people in Do Thanh commune feed tigers at home to sell or give as gifts to government officials who do not care if tigers are in a cage or live in the wild,” Q said.
To differentiate between whether tigers are kept in confinement or live in the wild, you have to see their teeth, Q said.
Tigers raised in captivity have weaker jaw muscles and smaller teeth than their wild cousins because they have little space to move and their natural instincts are not required to hunt for prey to survive, he explained.
After the conversation, Q asked the Tuoi Tre journalist, “Do you want to see tigers? They are not captive tigers but tigers that are going to be killed for bone paste.”
That evening, Q drove the reporter to a small house nearby. When they arrived, Q and the house owner hugged each other tightly, as if they had not seen each other for ages. After that, Q took the journalist into the back of the house where a cage holding two tigers was located.
One of two tigers owned by Q. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Transportation of living tigers
“Dead tigers are often transported in refrigeration trucks. So, how you transport living tigers?”, our reporter asked.
“They are injected with an anesthetic. To bring them through border gates, we bribe customs officials VND50 million for each delivery. Sometimes, we transport them through waterways,” Q said.
“We ship tiger parts to customers in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi by plane. After killing tigers, we split them into different pieces that are neatly packed in bags before they are put on an airplane. We often bribe airport security guards anywhere from VND50 million ($2,400) to VND70 million ($3,360) per shipped tiger,” he continued.
Q said he used to get in trouble with the police for what he does. “One time, police knocked on my door, so I promptly moved two frozen tigers to another location. Everything was fine then, but I became more careful after that.”
Tran Hong, police chief of the Bureau of Environmental Crimes in Nghe An province, told Tuoi Tre that, “We have been told that some people in the province keep tigers at home, but it is very hard to approach their residence. If you are not their acquaintance, you are not allowed to enter.”
The People’s Committee of Yen Thanh commune has recently decided to set up an inspection team to examine villages that are suspected of housing farmed tigers starting from October 20.