China needs to lift the ban on the sale of tiger parts if it wants to stop poaching and prevent extinction, a New Zealand tiger expert says.
At the risk of horrifying conservationists, Dr Brendan Moyle, senior lecturer at Massey University, believes the Chinese Government should allow tiger farms to trade tiger parts, so poachers are unable to sell them on the black market, helping to prevent extinction.
"Make poaching unprofitable. We have created a monopoly for these guys and people are dreaming if they think it is going to stop. We are making them rich and it is not helping the tigers. I can't see any other way around this."
Tiger bone is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat everything from skin disease, convulsions, laziness and malaria to rheumatism.
Tiger penis is believed by many to be a powerful aphrodisiac and wine can be made from tiger blood, believed to give energy.
There are estimated to be about 60 wild tigers left in China but there is a large captive population, up to about 5000. Each year 1000 cubs are born.
The Chinese Government banned the trade in tiger parts in 1993. An international trading ban has been in effect for the past 30 years.
But China is now conducting a review of the ban after a push from tiger farmers who fear extinction of the animal due to poachers.
Authorities have asked Dr Moyle and other international tiger experts to share their views.
Although Dr Moyle, 41, teaches economics at the university's college of business, he has qualifications in wildlife management and wildlife economics.
He says he is not enthused about trading tigers but believes it is time to consider a new strategy as the ban is clearly not working.
"It's useless trying to convince people with such a long tradition of using tiger bone in their medicines that they should stop using it."
He knows his views may alarm some animal lovers.
"There is no magic solution to the problem though, no feel-good answer."
It may seem unethical to farm tigers but there may be no other way to protect the endangered species, Dr Moyle believes.
To regulate a legal trading system, he suggests medical authorities jump on the bandwagon and produce prescriptions that allow a sick person to buy tiger parts from a farm.
The Chinese monitoring system for captive tigers is "excellent", Dr Moyle says. They are microchipped and have blood taken for DNA profiling.
However World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) New Zealand executive director Chris Howes says markets do not always operate perfectly, proved by the whaling trade, which is decimating the species.
"If we create a market for it, you are still going to get illegal trade. We need to take every action to protect tigers, no one wants them to go extinct and this will see that happen."
He said tiger farms were unnatural as the species was not supposed to live in groups or closed areas.
Three subspecies of the tiger had become extinct in the past five decades and by trading, the remaining six had the potential to follow suit, Mr Howes said.
A decision by the Chinese authorities on whether to lift the ban is not expected before the Beijing Olympics in August next year.