The nature of viral videos is this: you click, you watch, you react, you share.
Unfortunately, in this process, something very important is often lost: context.
Today, we were all given a pretty dark reminder of that fact when an apparently delightful video of Siberian tigers hunting a drone emerged.
The video has all the necessary ingredients to be a viral hit. Animals are always good, tigers are especially majestic and it’s always nice when someone or something sticks it to technology. Take that, robots!
This video began with a tweet from British outlet ITV News, and then was picked up by BBC and spiralled out from there into the world.
In the eyes of ? ??: A drone is knocked out of the sky after being chased by a group of tigers in China pic.twitter.com/fiEghQKwR4
— ITV News (@itvnews) February 23, 2017
In the video, we see an ambush of tigers (yup, that’s collective noun) in the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park in China lured into doing some exercises by one of the park’s trainers, who is operating the drone. The whole incident was caught on camera by China Central Television (CCTV).
As you would expect, the big cats hunt the thing down and start eating it until the drone begins to emit smoke. The tigers back off and the video ends.
At this point, you’d probably be onto the thing, perhaps a surfing otter or a tiny Trump. After all, we gotta keep clicking, that’s the name of the game.
However, some sleuth work by Motherboard has given the internet pause on this particular video.
Motherboard reports that John R. Platt, a science journalist was the first to recognise the true origin of the footage. And you won’t like it because the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park isn’t a sanctuary dedicated to the preservation of tigers as the name may suggest. According to Platt, it is in fact, a tiger slaughter farm.
Reminder: China has an estimated *7* wild tigers left. Many more in this video = obviously a tiger farm. They'll be turned into bone & wine https://t.co/7hxmkSDei2
— John R Platt (@johnrplatt) February 23, 2017
Digging deeper, it was found that the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park does indeed specialise in contraband such as tiger bone, meat, pelts and wine.
If you are wondering why people want these parts of the tiger, it is because of the status of these animals in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Thousands of years ago, it was believed that by ingesting parts of the tiger, you would absorb its power.
It would be unfair to say that TCM is all about tiger parts – much of it relies on herbs, plants and minerals – but there are still a group of people who think that eating and drinking the tiger will make you as strong as one.
China officially banned the use of tiger bone in 1993, but this hasn’t stopped the black market trading of tiger-related items.
According to a report by The Washington Post, there are between 5 and 6,000 tigers living in about 200 farms in China. Most of these animals will be live and die in captivity. Conditions vary, but in some cases they are appalling. There are fewer than 4,000 tigers left in the wild. We aren’t sure how many Siberian tigers there are, but the WWF estimates the current population is around 500.
When it comes to hunting, tigers are pretty much unstoppable.
In the wild, they will eat anything that they can catch and kill. According to the Tiger Foundation, this often includes boars, wild pigs, bears, buffalo, wild cattle, dear, antelopes and baby elephants.
Equipped with, um, cat-like reflexes, tigers can run up to 65 km/h and have been known to jump up to 4 metres high in order to earn a snack.
As apex predators, they sit comfortably at the top of the food chain.
However, the one animal that wrecks this balance is us. And this is why we can’t have nice things.
The one positive about this viral video is that it may raise awareness of the plight of tigers in the world and in particular, China. If you are interested in clicking on something else to help to save the tiger, you can visit this site to learn more.