Tigers are in serious trouble. According to the best estimates from the big cat NGO Panthera, there are only about 3,900 tigers left in the wild. Furthermore, the species currently occupies only 6% of its historic range (Goodrich et al., 2015). For these reasons, tigers are listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
The tiger’s dramatic decline, much of which occurred in the past 100 years, is the result of numerous factors. These include: habitat loss and fragmentation, human-tiger conflict (related both to attacks on livestock and human safety), and the overhunting of tigers’ natural prey (Panthera).
However, most damaging of all has been poaching for the illegal wildlife trade. Tigers are hunted both for use in traditional Asian medicine (TAM) and to provide status symbols to the growing middle class in countries like China and Vietnam.
Products such as tiger bone wine are believed to increase consumers’ health and treat a range of ailments (including as arthritis), although there is no evidence to support such claims. Since it is expensive, tiger bone wine is also purchased to show off one’s high standing. The same goes for tiger skins. They serve as an expensive form of decoration for the elite, and are sometimes given as gifts (Sharif, 2014).
More information about the demand for illegal wildlife products can be found in Vian Sharif’s excellent report Analysis of Conservation Initiatives Aimed at Reducing Demand for Traded Wildlife in China and Vietnam.
Tendrel Zangmo: The First Collared Tiger of Bhutan – Great Video
Fortunately, there are people who are working hard to turn the tide for tigers. A friend on Facebook sent me a neat video about tiger conservation in Bhutan, produced by the Bhutan Foundation. It does a good job of explaining some of the work being done there, and it does so in six short minutes. Here is the video:
If you would like to help tigers on this Global Tiger Day, there are plenty of ways to do so. Many conservation organizations are using this occasion to raise money for their crucial work.
First, they are strategically focused on tackling the most severe threat to wild tigers: poaching. Panthera bolsters law enforcement efforts throughout Asia in a variety of ways, which you can read about here.
Second, when I was in Belize last summer Panthera’s employees were remarkably kind and patient with me. I can therefore assure you that they hire some of the best people around.
Panthera tigris – IUCN Red List
Tiger – Panthera