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Man convicted for killing and eating China’s last Indochinese tiger

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Indochinese tigerThe last Indochinese tiger in China was killed and eaten by a man who has now been sentenced to 12 years in prison for his crime.

The Indochinese tiger (also known as Corbett’s tiger or Panthera tigris corbetti) is an endangered tiger subspecies that used to live in China, but now only exists in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam, where it remains under heavy threat from poachers.

Kang Wannian, the villager from Mengla, Yunnan Province, claims he killed the tiger last February in self-defense. But that didn’t stop him and four others from butchering and eating the animal. His dining mates were also convicted and will spend three to four years in jail for "covering up and concealing criminal gains," according to a Tuesday report in the China National News.

Indochinese tigers are…well, were…legally protected in China. The last time the subspecies was officially seen in the country was 2007, and some believed that Kang killed that tiger. He received a ten-year sentence for killing a rare animal, plus another two years for possessing an illegal firearm.

Population counts for Indochinese tigers are hard to come by. A 1998 census estimated between 736 and 1,225 animals, but it has since been reconsidered and the species has been split into two subspecies, the Indochinese tiger and the Malayan Tiger (P.t. jacksoni), which exists only in Malaysia. Current estimates place the species at fewer than 1,000 individuals (the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species estimates just 630), with increasingly scattered populations due to habitat fragmentation and poaching.

Two other tiger subspecies still exist in China: the Siberian or Amur tiger (P.t. altaica), most of which live in Russia, and the critically endangered South China tiger (P.t. amoyensis), one of the world’s most endangered mammals. Fewer than 20 South China tigers are thought to exist in the wild. (For more about the spread of big cats, see the Scientific American feature article, "The Evolution of Cats.")

Image: Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), via Wikipedia


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  1. 1. candide 2:06 pm 12/25/2009

    Bet it doesn’t taste like Chicken. … :)

    Seriously, China has a very poor contradictory record with any sort of animal protection. Rhino Horn and many other endangered animal parts are used for various superstitious reasons.

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  2. 2. MCMalkemus 4:18 pm 12/25/2009

    As long as human population continues unabated growth, no species is safe from extinction. Eventually, there will only be domestic animals left for consumption.

    The solution is to curb human population expansion. If that is possible.

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  3. 3. amwc 6:02 pm 12/25/2009

    Sure China and many "developing" countries have a terrible record of protecting animals. But maybe we also need to remember that habitat protection is just as important…and in that respect "developed" countries are often just as bad, if not much worse, than countries like China.

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  4. 4. anairhoads 6:20 pm 12/25/2009

    I am saddened by this news and disappointed in the weak sentence given to this man and to his "dining mates." Considering the severity of this case, a stronger sentence should have been imposed.

    China’s record isn’t exactly stellar when it comes to animal rights – or even human rights for that matter.

    Anai Rhoads
    Friends of Animals

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  5. 5. hotblack 12:30 am 12/26/2009

    Most people live like simple animals. If they continue to do so, they will only invite themselves to be treated as such.

    With the passing of time, it is easier and cheaper to create dangerous viruses capable of picking up Natures slack. Cue a million sci-fi movies and saturday morning cartoons…

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  6. 6. amwc 12:34 am 12/26/2009

    population control – so true that we need it. but some how such a taboo subject.

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  7. 7. hawkeye 3:50 am 12/26/2009

    Well, it’s obvious that human nations and organizations will never summon up the political will to do what needs to be done to avoid global catastrophe. The so-called human race basically is acting as an infectious disease organism afflicting the planet, while considering itself somehow unique in all of creation.

    But not to worry; when the time comes, Mother Nature will take care of the problem, and the arrogant fools currently running things will join previous other unsuccessful species in extinction.

    It’s frustrating having to share the planet with these idiots, but we are stuck with them. I take no comfort from it, but it will be interesting to watch their reactions when the environmental bills come due, and the changes start getting drastic.

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  8. 8. Roscoe 10:06 am 12/26/2009

    You guys calling for population control don’t realize this happened in a country with strict population control laws and laws protecting this tiger.

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  9. 9. og_1952 1:15 pm 12/26/2009

    thank you , well said

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  10. 10. suigeneris 1:31 pm 12/26/2009

    I am definitely not saying that I support what this man did by any means…but if a tiger was trying to kill me I would also act in self defense in any way possible. If my only way of staying alive meant killing an endangered tiger, I would not hesitate. The last thing going through my mind would be "wait, is this tiger protected?"

    Also, if this was the last tiger in China, there is no way it could have miraculously procreated seeing as it wouldn’t have had a mate. So eventually it would have died in some other way and then we would be in the same boat. Extinction of this tiger in China was inevitable with or without this man killing it.

    Again, I am not happy about this at all. I’m just trying to be realistic.

    Also–population control is a communist belief. If you don’t want basic human rights and want to live in a communism, go live in China. How much more un-American can you people be?

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  11. 11. cmac 2:41 pm 12/26/2009

    Preserveing the planet so that civilization can exist is a serious problem. We are in the process of one of the earth great extinction periods. The current one is being brought on by humans.

    The tiger is only one of the many beautiful creatures that is being annihilated. Forrest, oceans and all of nature is being destroyed in the name of profit. Population and the resources needed to sustain these masses are placing great pressure on our ability to survive.

    Population will be controlled either voluntarily or nature will control it for us. If we look at history and the human population of earth we find that it took from 1000BC to 1810 to reach the first billion people. So when the US Constitution was written there were not even a billion people on this planet. Then in 1930 we reached the second billion, it took thirty years to reach the 3 billion people (1960), it took 20 years to reach 4 billion people (1980), it ten years to reached 5 billion people (1990) , it took another ten years to reach 6 billion people (2000) we currently have around 7 billion people on this planet, many of them starving and laking clean water.

    The earth will survive and so will life on the planet it just may not be with civilizations, humans, mammals, etc.

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  12. 12. occamsrzr 2:52 pm 12/26/2009

    To Suigeneris,

    I agree with everything you wrote about self-defense and the inevitability of this subspecies’ extinction. But regarding population control; I believe you are allowing your ideology to cloud your common sense. Population control is not communist, democratic, or any other human-created system. It is inevitable in the sense that finite resources can only support a finite population, not infinite population growth. At some point, no matter how clever we are or how many endangered species we allow to become extinct, the size of our own species’ population will be limited. The only question is whether that limit will be imposed by ourselves in a way that allows us to maintain most of our way of life or whether it will be imposed by competition for increasingly scarce resources that results in misery and hardship for most people. I for one believe that continuing in a suicidal course of action in the name of individual freedom is foolish. The few of us who survive can live freely in a new Stone Age.

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  13. 13. hawkeye 1:08 am 12/27/2009

    But "strict population controls", like any other laws, are only effective if they are enforced.

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  14. 14. Grasshopper1 11:44 am 12/27/2009

    People say that the major extinctions of Earth were in the Ordovician, the Devonian, the Permian, the Triassic, and the Cretaceous. But they forget the extinction that is happening now.

    One answer is population control, but it is kept taboo in many countries.

    The tiger-eaters should have a much heavier sentence- maybe 15 to 20 years.

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  15. 15. PhilJourdan 10:20 pm 12/27/2009

    For all advocating population control, why is it that only those who have been born advocate it? It would seem that the honest among us would lead by example.

    Die for another species today.

    Nice slogan. I think I will use it.

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  16. 16. fixerdave 10:52 pm 12/27/2009

    Population is not a taboo subject, it’s just been resolved. Don’t believe me? Check out the current UN population growth numbers. We’re down to a projected 9 billion, from what used to be 12 to 24 billion. Why? Cities. It seems that when you pack people into cities, they have less children, less than the replacement rate actually. We’re now at the point where over half the people in the world live in cities.

    Thus, oddly enough, it’s turning out that cities are the best thing that ever happened to wilderness. If we keep this urbanisation up, we might actually have some wilderness left when we crest 9 billion and start going back down.

    Of course, we can’t maintain wilderness at 6 billion, so adding 50% more of us isn’t going to help. But, at least we have a chance to save something, unlike the old 18 billion mark.

    But, yeah, when you’re down to the last of something, it’s way, way too late. Then again, they could re-introduce these tigers as there are other populations available. Of course, the local farmers might not be happy about that, but then they could move to the city :)

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  17. 17. davidreves 7:54 am 12/28/2009

    I bet it was becuse of GLOBAL WARMING that drove this poor
    man to hunger.

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  18. 18. luwey 9:36 pm 12/28/2009

    well said!

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  19. 19. loopygroopy 12:53 pm 12/29/2009

    MCMalkemus: isn’t that what china has attempted to do with the introduction of the one child law? it doesn’t work, people breed like rabbits. maybe we should introduce something like Myxomatosis, but for people?

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  20. 20. herongh 9:29 pm 12/29/2009

    Get your facts straight on population control. Equating it with communism is ridiculous. China only implemented population control after a disasterous program of encouraging large families to provide cheap labor and soldiers backfired. Besides, people in China can have more than one child, but in certain circumstances incur a penalty for doing so. However, the Chinese desire for male children together with population growth control policy has created another problem. An unbalanced, and potentially unstable, population with significantly more men than women.

    Regarding the basic issue of population control, why should people unable to provide or care for their offspring have an unlimited right to expect other, more responsible people, to provide food, medical care, education and material goods for their large families. Perhaps the personal income tax deduction should cease after three children and become progressively more negative with increasing number of children per couple. For people with adequate financial resources they could weigh their desire for more children against the added financial burden of a large family.

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  21. 21. Crimson Tide 4:08 pm 12/30/2009

    That tiger has every right to kill that Chinese peasant or whatever his social status might be. Tigers need to eat too yo know to stay alive. It’s one tiger vs one billion plus two legged sticks. Believe me, that Tiger probably couldn’t find many other sources of food besides the abundant peasants. Besides the truth might very well be that the men chased the thing to eat it. That Tiger was probably running for its life, obviously couldn’t outrun the bullet. Besides, people don’t taste that good.

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  22. 22. Grasshopper1 5:46 pm 12/31/2009

    Exactly. We forget that animals actually need to eat to stay alive.

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  23. 23. Quinn the Eskimo 10:33 pm 12/31/2009

    If he ate the *last* one–it doesn’t matter.

    If he’d eaten the last *pair*–well, that’s a different tale.

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  24. 24. Amur_Tiger 6:02 pm 01/1/2010

    China is actually a lot worse then developed nations and most/all developing nations, their attitudes towards tiger conversation have been abysmal and misleading for decades. Even as late as the 70s tigers were hunted down as -pests- in China and Traditional Chinese Medicine is the primary instrument of the tiger’s demise.

    By comparison just next door Russia’s tigers have been protected since the 40s and rebounded signifigantly until the fall of the iron curtain and even then managed to protect their tigers far better then anyone else. Developed nations may not have a huge lead on developing nations when it comes to conservation but you’d best hope they have a lead on China given how particularily bad their record is.

    Also as evidence of their attempts to mislead the world about this look to how realistic their claim of still having wild South Chinese tigers is, there hasn’t been good evidence in over a decade now iirc and I’ll bet they aren’t inviting any real scientists to check it out for certain.

    There may many things that China is doing right but when it comes to conservation they are few and far between and vastly outweighed by the wrong. Currently the likly status of wild tigers in china is no residents and occational spill-over from the Russian Siberian tiger population.

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  25. 25. Grasshopper1 2:59 pm 01/3/2010

    Many animals are protected in one country and shot at across the border. Animals don’t pay attention to human boundaries!

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  26. 26. Peter Simmons 8:58 am 11/28/2012

    10. suigeneris – there was no mention of the tiger attacking or being killed as self defence, why did you interpret it thus? He clearly tracked and hunted the tiger because the Chinese are stuffed with illogical ideas about what makes people well, and, most importantly, what aids men to have huge penises; and many species are killed for just this reason. He wasn’t starving either, tigers and other top predators are not the best tasting meat. But then Chinese will eat anything, sometimes while they are still alive.
    China shares a border with the countries mentioned as having these togers still, so it could easily have traveled to one of them in search of a mate, so your other ‘point’ is equally wrong.
    Population control os nothing to do with communism, it’s to do with being intelligent, sensible, forward-thinking, cautious, and considerate of other species inhabiting this planet, and mindful of the balance needed for the ecosystem to work. Top predators have an important role in it, and when removed, all kinds of bad effects result.
    China is also responsible for species depletion in other countries and particularly in Africa, where they will ensure the rhinos will be gone in another few decades if not sooner, and all for their ludicrous ‘Chinese medicine’, nothing but superstition wrapped in mystification.

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