Elite businessmen and corrupt government officials in China have found a new way to display their wealth and social status – by witnessing the slaughter of a tiger before dining on its flesh.

This so-called “exotic delicacy” is not only grossly macabre, but also completely illegal, as the butchering of tigers has been outlawed in China since 1993. And yet, the existence of underground markets selling tiger is an open secret, and Chinese traditional medicine still ascribes to the belief that certain parts of tigers – such as the bones or eyeballs – can be used to treat ailments ranging from poor eyesight to impotence.

Professional butchers that are hired for these nightmarish events are paid roughly $170 for their appearance and expertise. Not only do they slaughter the animal for the entertainment and palates of their guests, but they also package any remaining parts to be sold on the black market after the fact. One butcher that was recently reported to authorities is believed to have killed over ten tigers since 2007.

Ren Yabuki, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization Life Investigation Agency which researches and campaigns against illegal wildlife trade and animal cruelty, notes that, “There are currently estimated to be 50 wild tigers left in China; it’s probably only a matter of time before they are all extinct. The area where the tigers are being eaten has a long cultural history of feasting on exotic creatures, thus the moral hurdle is probably low. In recent years, as China’s wealthy class have grown, people keep seeking ways to assert their superiority via their wealth, and paying large amounts of money to dine on endangered species is one way this is done. It’s greed expressed as appetite.”

While these acts of brutality disguised as dinner parties have been going on since at least 2007, there have been very few arrests. Until recently, when police raided one of these events in the city of Leizhou, after a drunken guest posted numerous gruesome pictures of the slaughter to his social media account.

As wild tigers are rare in China – rare to the extent that some varieties are believed to be extinct – the tigers being used for these “dinners” are likely to have been smuggled in from Vietnam. The endangered status of these animals – with as few as 3,200 existing in the wild today – does little to deter the wealthy from their barbaric displays of power.

Ciara is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.