WASHINGTON — A US diplomat disguised himself as a Korean tourist to probe a tiger farm in China where he voiced alarm at conditions that included whippings of the endangered big cats, a leaked memo said.

An internal US diplomatic cable, released by the activist anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, questioned the intentions behind the Xiongsen Mountain Village but was unable to substantiate reports that tiger meat was on sale.

In sometimes colorful language, the 2007 cable narrated how an unidentified officer at the US consulate in Guangzhou overcame the suspicions of Xiongsen's staff by convincing them that he was a Korean tourist.

"The staff stated that up to three tour groups of Koreans came a day, numbering more than 30 in each group. The Koreans were among the most enthusiastic purchasers of both the black bear bile and the tiger wine, according to store staff," the cable said.

The officer described a "circus-like environment" in which he saw "several tigers being struck with a metal pole, while other tigers were whipped."

China says it has nearly 6,000 tigers in captivity, but just 50 to 60 are left in the wild. In the 1980s, China set up tiger farms to try to preserve the big cats.

But conservationists have criticized the farms, accusing them of seeking primarily to produce tiger parts, which some Asians regard as aphrodisiacs.

The diplomat "was unable to confirm allegations that tiger meat was available" at Xiongsen but "the commercial nature of the farm was troubling," the memo said.

"The large number of endangered tigers and bears present with no current plans to reintroduce... them into the wild raises concern regarding the motivation of such a farm," it said.

The diplomat also visited the Longyan Tiger Reserve where he said he saw tiger wine for sale. He said the staff told him that no other tiger products were on sale, but also that they did not know of plans to reintroduce tigers to the wild.

WikiLeaks has upset US authorities by releasing thousands of diplomatic cables, allegedly leaked by young Army private Bradley Manning. The cable on the tiger farms was first reported by the British newspaper The Guardian.