National Geographic : 2010 Jan
• Wong, Flora and Fauna Village." "The plans were approved yesterday." I began thumbing through the architectural drawings. Anson's partners were his wife and Michael Ooi, an internationally renowned orchid dealer. (Michael's brother Gino operates Malaysia's largest rare bird facility, Penang Bird Park.) For years the Wongs and Michael Ooi had run a zoo on Penang called Bukit Jambul Orchid, Hibiscus and Reptile Garden. Zoos make good cover. Smugglers in control of a zoo can move endangered species with paperwork, and a zoo can use its breeding pro- gram to explain the appearance of a new animal. generally doesn't monitor what happens to an animal a er a zoo imports it: A gorilla can be sold domestically, or if it dies (or is killed), can be cut up for meat, or parts, or even stu ed. Anson's portion of the zoo was called Bukit Jam- bul Reptile Sanctuary, and it had enabled him to host nature lovers and wildlife experts from around the world while he secretly smuggled rare animals through his other company. Anson told me his new zoo would far surpass Bukit Jambul. He would still display reptiles, and he would charge visitors next to nothing to get in, but this time he expected to make a lot of money. He had a new focus: big cats. "I love tigers," he said. "Captive breeding," Anson smiled, "that is the future." I looked up with an adrenaline jolt. Tigers are all but extinct in the wild, with only about 4,000 le . Now Anson Wong was planning to make tigers his specialty. There's a valuable black market for tigers. Tibetans wear tiger-skin robes; wealthy collec- tors display their heads; exotic restaurants sell their meat; their penis is said to be an aphrodi- siac; and Chinese covet their bones for health cures, including tiger-bone wine, the "chicken soup" of Chinese medicine. Experts have put the black market value of a dead, adult male tiger at $10,000 or more. In some Asian countries, tourist attractions called tiger parks secretly operate as front operations for tiger farming--- butchering captive tigers for their parts and o ering a potential market for wild-tiger poach- ers too. (Keeping an adult tiger costs $5,000 a year in food alone, but a bullet costs only a dollar.) Anson has a dark history with big cats. Dur- ing Operation Chameleon he had asked Morri- son's help to have tigers he was raising mounted for sale as trophies. He has o ered to smuggle a cougar out of the U.S., and he wanted to sell Morrison an Appendix I marbled cat. A er his prison release, tiger cubs he owned were found on display at a Kuala Lumpur pet store. Anson was practiced at circumventing Malaysian prohi- bitions on keeping tigers and other endangered species by securing "special permits"---licenses granted on the recommendation of Perhilitan, the wildlife department, to private individuals, theme parks, and zoos. He glanced at my shoulder bag. "George Mor- rison recorded everything," he said, and stood up. He rapped his knuckles against his wall cal- endar. "I'm busy," he said, indicating forthcoming commitments: Taipei, Hong Kong, ailand. "I'm here this weekend," I o ered. "Weekends are for family," he replied. "We'll talk, but not this trip." He walked me to the door. "When you're done with your book, we should talk about my story," he said. THERE'S A VALUABLE BLACK MARKET FOR TIGERS. WEALTHY COLLECTORS DISPLAY THEIR HEADS, EXOTIC RESTAURANTS SELL THEIR MEAT, AND CHINESE COVET THEIR BONES FOR HEALTH CURES, INCLUDING TIGER BONE WINE.