The Asian continent is home to some of the world’s most spectacular biodiversity. For centuries the flora and fauna has evolved along side civilization and has played a pivotal role in shaping religious, tribal, and social norms in the region. They have defined the ecological landscape and their existence is intrinsically woven into the very fabric of these cultures. Yet, human greed and constant competition for resources between man and animal threaten their survival, and none is more threatened than the tiger. Things have drastically changed in the last 100 years for tigers, the most iconic species of the Asian continent. Their habitat once spanned 22 countries, but they are now only found in 11. They have lost 93% of their historic range. Three subspecies have gone extinct and fewer than 3,200 individuals of the remaining six subspecies exist in the wild, of which less than a third are breeding females. These majestic and elusive cats are listed as “Endangered” on the International Union of the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened species. Listed below are several topics for you to explore in this newsletter. The segments include Species At A Glance, The Plight of Tigers in Captivity - A Tragic Reality, Illegal Wildlife Trade – The Big Picture, Threats and Crises, Hope and A Formula for Success, Who to Support and Take Action.
Species At A Glance:
Only a century ago there were more than a 100,000 tigers in the wild; a number that accounted for the nine subspecies of tigers believed to have evolved around 2 million years ago.
Listed below are the nine subspecies of tiger along with their IUCN status and their estimated population in the wild. To learn more about each subspecies, their habitat and other interesting facts about them please visit World Wildlife Funds – Tiger
The Plight Of Tigers In Captivity - A Tragic Reality: There are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild. An estimated 5,000 tigers are privately owned in the United States and another 5,000 – 7,000 live in tiger farms in Asia. World Wildlife Funds
Tigers among us (Watch Video): In USA - Of the 5,000 captive tigers in the United States approximately 500 live in reputable zoos while the rest live in deplorable living conditions as backyard pets, in roadside zoos, or as animals for entertainment.
Tigers Forever (Book)
Tiger farms in Laos, Vietnam, and China: In Asia-Just as lion farms exist to support the canned hunting industry, tiger farms exist for the sole purpose of trade in tiger parts for Traditional Chinese medicine.
…“After China banned tiger bone trade for medicinal uses in 1993, commercial breeding boomed – despite a 2007 CITES decision to phase out tiger farms. In 1986, there were about 20 captive tigers in China; today there are 5,000-6,000 tigers in perhaps 200 farms, ranging from small facilities to massive breeding operations, with two of those housing more than 1,000 tigers, according to a 2013 report by the U.K. –based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Many are run as tourist attractions, with some facilities even masquerading as tiger conservation sites. Under regulation introduced in the last ten years, “utilization’- aka sale- of certain products derived from captive-bred endangered species, including tiger skins, is legal. This trade is perpetuating demand, and stimulating poaching, says EIA lead investigator Debbie Banks.”…(Excerpt from Tigers Forever, Saving the world’s most endangered big cat)
Tiger farm in Thailand: There are 21 documented farms in Thailand that house almost 1,800 tiger.
Illegal Wildlife Trade – The Big Picture Conservationists often liaise with governments and create laws that give species protective status as soon as and in some cases even before they are identified as threatened or vulnerable. However, if governments lack the infrastructure to strictly enforce these laws these regions become hotspots for illegal wildlife trade pushing the species on a silent, but imminent path to extinction. Illegal wildlife trade is a lucrative business; in 2008 INTERPOL estimated it to be a 20 billion dollar industry. Given these numbers we often assume that huge profit margin serves as an economic incentive for locals to become poachers, and that is a misconception. Tiger poachers have no economic advantages in pay scale over the unskilled laborers in their region. In other words, they are likely to make the same money whether they choose to be a poacher or an unskilled day laborer. To put this in context, in one documented case in India (where daily wages for unskilled laborers range between $2.50 – 5.50/ a day), a trader paid a group of four poachers a total of $15 each for killing a tiger. This tiger, which was killed for $60, is worth $100,000 in the Black market in China. It is not individual poachers who profit from these horrendous crimes, but an international network of organized criminals who run the illegal wildlife trade that profit from it. The same people who are involved in illegal arms deals, drugs, and human trafficking. According to INTERPOL, these organized criminals are funneling money from the illegal wildlife trade to fund wars and create political unrest around the world. The insurgencies not only cripple individual nations, but such regional instabilities impacts the entire global community. Not many people realize that illegal wildlife trade is not just an environmental issue, but one pertaining to national security and global stability. World Wildlife Fund:
Stop wildlife crime – It is dead serious – Tiger series (Watch Video)
Threats And Crises: The six subspecies of tigers live in different terrains, yet the threats they face in the wild are identical. The tiger population has declined rapidly over the last 100 years because of
Loss of habitat: Deforestation and fragmentation of home range
Loss of prey
Human- animal conflict.
1. Poaching: Poaching remains the single largest threat to the wild tiger population. Tiger parts are used in Traditional Chinese medicine. The insatiable demand for tiger parts has been relentless and as a consequence of which fewer than 3,200 individuals remain in the wild. Included in this segment are interviews with a leading tiger conservationist as she shares her thoughts and observations about the crises and what can be done to secure the tiger’s future. The segment also includes articles that further illustrate the poaching crisis and the connection between the demand for tiger parts in Traditional Chinese medicine and the Black market that caters to it.
Tiger Hunted (Watch Video): A National Geographic photographer and filmmaker turned conservationist, Belinda Wrights explains the major threats the Bengal tiger faces and why is it so difficult to protect the tiger.
Battling India's Illegal Tiger Trade (Watch Video): In this video Belinda Wrights who founded Wildlife Protection Society of India talks about the unimaginable cruelty of poaching and what inspired her to become an activist. She also elaborates on the connection between Traditional Chinese medicine and the dwindling tiger numbers in the wild.
Tigers in traditional Chinese Medicine A universal apothecary (Read Article): In this article the author has shed some light on the pervasive use of tiger parts in Traditional Chinese medicine. Every single tiger part, from its whiskers to its tail is used in the preparation of these medicinal concoctions. At the end of the article is a list of ailments that these medicines claim to cure. Note: There is no scientific evidence indicating that tiger parts have any medicinal value.The article also provides a historical context to illustrate the primary cause of extinction of the South China tiger and why professional poachers branched out to neighboring countries with tiger population.
Cry for the Tiger “We have the means to save the mightiest cat on Earth. But do we have the will?” (Read Article): Follow the author as she travels through three tiger reserves in three different countries – India, Myanmar and Thailand. Learn about the challenges and triumphs of these reserves and what it takes to be a ranger patrolling these tough terrains.
2. Loss of habitat: Deforestation and fragmentation of the home range: Habitat destruction due to illegal logging or for planting monoculture crops like Palm oil on a commercial scale has put the species in peril. For the tiger population to thrive they need: a large home range, high prey density, water, protection and a life away from humans. The tiger is the largest among all the big cats of the Asian continent. They are mostly solitary except for when a female has cubs. Cubs stay with their mother till they turn two after which they move on to establish their own territories. Females have very distinct and defined territories, which they defend fiercely. Male tiger territories on the other hand overlap with a few females. While availability of prey is key in determining the female’s home range, accessibility to food source and a mate is what a male tiger uses to define his territory. Deforestation not only destroys the delicate web of life within these ecosystems, but also fragments the tiger’s home range. Lack of safe wildlife corridors that connect these small forest pockets, make it impossible for the tigers to breed, find prey or establish their territory.
World Wildlife Fund Indonesia
Don’t flush Tiger Forest: (Watch Video): Toilet paper consumed in the United States is destroying tiger habitat in Sumatra, Indonesia. Get stats and understand the impact our everyday actions have on the survival of a species half way across the world.
Don’t flush tiger forest: (Read Article) – Article that illustrates the above message.
Illegal logging in Russian Far East: Global demand and Taiga destruction: (Read Article): The downside to living in a globalized economy is that the consumer is usually unaware of where the merchandize is being sourced from. The raw materials exchange so many hands before reaching the consumer as finished products that the line between legal and illegal is blurred. And the end user is usually oblivious to the backend processes. In any economy what matters to the consumer is the affordability of the goods. Sure these goods are affordable, but the cost the consumer does not incur is paid by someone. That someone almost always happens to be nature. The article highlights the scope of the problem that illegal logging in Far-east Russia poses for its flora and fauna including the Amur tiger, whose survival critically depends on an intact habitat.
3. Loss of prey: Human population growth and commercial development of land has pushed humans to live in close proximity to tiger habitat. These communities often rely on wildlife meat for sustenance, which directly competes with the tiger’s prey. As stated before prey density determines a tiger’s territory; in fact it is inversely correlated, the higher the prey density the smaller the home range and vice versa.
4. Human-animal conflict: Human-animal conflict is an unfortunate and inevitable consequence of human’s encroaching on tiger habitat. Tigers are shy and solitary animals. However, an ever-shrinking habitat paired with a prey-depleted home range prompts a tigress with cubs or an old tiger to go after livestock, a far easier kill. Communities that live on the fringes of tiger habitat rely heavily on livestock for their livelihood and loss of livestock imposes real economic hardship. Retaliatory killing by poisoning the carcass is a fairly inexpensive, easy and, a risk averse way to get rid of the problem tigers. Pesticides are not regulated in a lot of developing countries and can be bought for as little as $1; which is often what is use to poison the tiger's kill.
5. Roads: Roads connect isolated-rural villages to cities and provide economic growth opportunities to these regions. What serves to better the lives of humans poses significant challenges for the survival of tigers. The roads, which are of concern, are the ones that either cut through or lead to tiger habitats. Roads that cut through their habitat puts the tigers and cubs at risk of road accidents while old logging roads (which are no longer in use for logging but have remained open to the public) provide easy access for poachers to tiger habitat which was previously inaccessible.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Paving the way for tiger conservation in Russia – Time for tigers(Read Article)- The article provides statistic on tiger mortality due to poaching and road accidents in reference to proximity of tiger habitat to primary and secondary roads. Although this is just a sampling, the rule applies to all tigers whose habitat is accessible by road.
Solving the “Road problem” for tigers (Read Article): Closing old logging roads to protect the Amur tigers and other species in the Russian Far- East was the solution presented by conservationists and accepted by logging companies in the region. Road deconstruction was scheduled to begin this summer. Do scroll down to the bottom of the page to look at the map to see how many roads were built between 1984- 2014 to understand the scope of the project.
Hope And A Formula For Success:
Recent tiger counts in Russia, India and Bhutan have all indicated a small rise in tiger numbers. The news is encouraging, but we can’t take solace in these small gains; it is time to galvanize. A concerted effort between NGO’s, local wildlife protection agencies, and regional governments supported by research and best practices in the field has the potential to make even bigger strides.
Tigers are a resilient species, but for the population to thrive they need a safe and intact habitat, high prey density, accessibility to a mate, and protection. Nagarhole National Park, India, Huai Kha Khaeng, Thailand and Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation, Indonesia are examples of places that provide these optimal living conditions for the tigers to thrive. Featured in this segment are Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation and Nagarhole National Park.
Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation, Indonesia (Watch Video): Situated on the Sumatran island of Indonesia, the privately owned Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation provides much-needed respite for the Sumatran tiger. Here the resolve of one man – Tomy Winata backed by political will, well-trained rangers, and land stewardship has created a safe haven for the most charismatic creatures of the Asian continent.
Nagarhole National Park, India: Located on the Western Ghats, Nagarhole is one of 41 tiger reserves in India. It is a beacon of hope in contrast to some of the other reserves within India, which are struggling to maintain their tiger population. It is home to an estimated 250 – 300 tigers. Dr. Ullas Karanth lives and works at Nagarhole National park. Among his many contributions to tiger conservation he is best known for his pioneering work in counting tigers using camera traps. Included in this segment are two short interviews with Dr. Karanth.
The Science of Counting Tigers (Watch Video) – Tiger stripes are as unique to each tiger as fingerprints are to humans. In this short video Dr. Karanth explains the accuracy in using camera traps to count tigers. This method is not only effective in creating a reliable database of tiger population in a region but also can be used for forensic purposes.
Wildlife Conservation Society
An Interview with Dr. Ullas Karanth: (Watch Video): He gives us a researchers perspective on the key components to consider to help revive this flagship species.
Who to support:
Please find below a list of organizations that are working tirelessly to save tigers. There are many ways you can support their cause, but the quickest way with immediate impact would be your monetary contributions. Your generous contributions will help train rangers, equip them with better tools to protect tigers, provide much needed funds for surveillance equipment, and so much more. Please send your contributions directly to an organization of your choice. Do visit all the websites listed below as each organization has research teams working in a different tiger range country.
Tigers Forever - Saving the worlds most endangered big cat By Steve Winter and Sharon Guynup. You can read the description of the book and buy it at the National Geographic store or at Amazon. Part of the proceeds from the book sale will go to Panthera’s Tigers Forever program.
There are more tigers in captivity in the United States than there are in the wild. Please visit World Wildlife Fund to sign petition and protect tigers from becoming backyard pets or entering the illegal wildlife trade. Thank you in advance for your advocacy.
Sightings of the Malayan tiger in the wild are very rare. These pictures of the Malayan tiger were taken using a camera trap by a research team based in Malaysia. Many thanks to Reuben Clements, the team's lead researcher, for sharing these images with us.
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