Fearless, powerful, and magnificent are all adjectives that readily describe tigers. Tigers have existed with relatively few threats for millions of years and have become a symbol of courage, strength, and even willpower. Tragically, these symbols of greatness have come up against deadly enemies called humans. Powerless against this threat, tigers are disappearing at an alarming rate; This vital part of our ecosystem now faces endangerment and even the possibility of extinction unless ongoing and future efforts of preservation prevail.
Tigers are beautiful and powerful creatures; they are also critical to our ecosystem. Sadly, 3 of 7 subspecies of tigers are already extinct, and more will follow unless changes are made. In an exercise conducted by WII in association with the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) ‘using a camera trap approximated that there were 3,642 tigers in India in 2002, as per the 2014 tiger estimation, it found that the number declined down to 2,226 tigers in the wild These tigers, along with the few in Nepal, add up to a little over 3,500 left in the wild’. This is alarming because tigers are apex predators, meaning they control the population of ungulates, which in turn controls the vegetation. So without tigers, certain ecosystems cannot be protected or maintained. Eventually, that ecosystem would collapse, which would lead to the extinction of other animals and plant life. An example of this happening is the dodo, which went extinct in 1681, causing a tree on the island to promptly follow its footsteps.
Tigers are a protected species which has increased their value on the black market. Unfortunately, a tiger has a significantly higher value if it has been killed and is sold in parts than it is alive. For example, a tiger cub can be sold for as much as $3,500, whereas a tiger pelt is worth around $20,000. Sadly, these magnificent animals are being sold to display wealth and power through decorative items such as mounted heads, pelts for walls, and even floor throws. Demands for tigers and tiger parts have made these creatures very valuable commodities which encourage poor villagers that live in native tiger lands to turn to poaching. An average of 300 tigers are killed every year, causing the number of tigers to decline quickly.
Another reason tigers are poached and sold illegally is because they play a significant role in Traditional Chinese (Asian) Medicine. It is believed that every part of the tiger treats a particular illness. One of the most popular tiger products is ‘tiger wine,’ which is made with tiger bones and is a remedy for reduced libido. This sells for about thirty thousand dollars a case. Many people believe that tiger parts help with an endless list of ailments, such as insomnia and arthritis. Because of high demand and international laws that ban killing and selling the tiger parts, hunting tigers has become profitable for poachers.
Finally, tigers are endangered because they are losing their habitats to villages and farmland. As the human population grows, more houses are built, which means humans need more land than before. This has caused ninety-five percent of tigers’ historical range to be destroyed and used for human development, according to ‘World Wildlife.’ India, where a large number of tigers reside, has grown over fifty percent in the last two decades, destroying many tiger homes. This endless vicious cycle has had a considerable impact on the tigers. According to Howard Jones, the CEO of British wildlife charity Born Free ‘Tigers (Panthera tigris) could be extinct in less than a decade, if we do not get our act together.’ Although there remains a semblance of habitat available in some areas, farming, deforestation, new roads, and development projects are forcing tigers into small and scattered islands of remaining habitats.
Furthermore, along with habitat destruction, tigers have also suffered a severe decline in natural prey populations. A healthy tiger needs to eat about 6,500 pounds of prey each year. Unfortunately, tigers are unable to find prey as land becomes scarce, especially when they are competing with villagers. To make things harder for them, the lack of vegetation makes it harder for them to hide and hunt. Also, because of urbanization and development, tigers are forced into smaller habitats that are closer to humans. This, along with the lack of available prey, makes tigers a target, and they are quickly hunted or killed due to fear or the threat of their killing the villager’s cattle. Although people are killing tigers, many humans are trying their best to save these animals.
Although the circumstance that tigers face is dire, there is hope. By many, tigers are treasured and considered a vital species. Fortunately, there are many individuals and organizations that have been making ongoing efforts to save tigers. Many groups use captive breeding programs such as the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), SSP (Species Survival Plan), and ZSL (Zoological Society of London). These programs were created to breed and release tigers and other endangered species into the wild through artificial insemination. Amazingly, ‘Sperm from all 140 male tigers in the United States is being collected.’ (Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park) to ensure genetic diversity. Captive breeders also perform activities such as securing breeding grounds, ensuring protection is given to tigers in these sites through patrols. They also monitor tiger populations, prey populations, and habitat quality, to ensure long-term tiger conservation (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Although much effort has been put into these programs, they aren’t very efficient because it takes a long time to raise healthy tigers; especially when only 33% of tigers survive when released into the wild. These programs are mainly used to maintain a demographically and genetically healthy captive population as a backup in case the species becomes extinct.
To survive in the wild, tigers need vast expanses of land containing water, animals to eat, and cover for hunting; this is why habitat conservation efforts are essential for its survival. Groups like WWF (The World Wildlife Fund) and THCP (The Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme) are working together with thirteen tiger range countries to double the tiger population by 2022- the Chinese year of the tiger. According to Mike Baltzer, Leader of Tigers Alive, WWF ‘The Tx2 commitment is the best chance we have at securing the future of wild tigers and their habitats – tigers may not get a second chance in the wild, and neither may we’. They base their efforts and funds in habitats where tigers have the best chance of long-term persistence and sites with optimal conditions for tigers to breed and thrive. To make sure its long term, they ensure the tiger’s protection by training rangers, using new technology, and establishing the Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS). This provides a minimum set of standards to encourage the success of tiger conservation and best practices in these areas. ‘Nine of the 13 tiger range countries are currently implementing CA|TS or in discussions on registering, and two sites have achieved CA|TS approval by meeting all the required standards.’ (WWF). Although these methods work, these programs cost millions of dollars and are funded through donations, making then unstable.
Although poaching and illegal wildlife trade are some of the biggest threats to conservation, it can be eliminated. A great example of this is Nepal, a third world country in South Asia, that has committed to conserving its nature and wildlife by dedicating 23 percent of the country to national parks, wildlife reserves, and conservation areas. Nepal has been “able to achieve 365 days of zero poaching twice: in 2011 for rhinos, and for 12 months ending February 2014, for rhinos, tigers, and elephants.’ (WWF). Through its great efforts ‘Nepal proved to the world that zero poaching can be achieved,’ said Dr. Barney Long, who leads species conservation at WWF-US. Nepal was able to achieve this by including many different bodies, from the Prime Minister who chairs the National Tiger Conservation Committee, the Minister of Forests and Soil Conservation, The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau who control wildlife crime, and the community who takes care of 23% of the counties forests. Nepal also uses new technologies and techniques to stop the poaching. They have 400 community-based units working throughout the nation, patrolling and protecting crucial areas like wildlife corridors and providing information on illegal activity. Nepal also implemented unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tools (SMART), and specially trained sniffer dogs to stop poaching and improve conservation management. (WWF)
Another solution to ensuring the tiger’s survival is protecting and restoring corridors and habitat range. Just by preserving and protecting the Khata corridor in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape, it was able to gain 2.7% of its tree coverage in fourteen years(Global Forrest Watch). This increase has lead tigers travel between Nepal’s Bardia National Park and India’s Katerniaghat Tiger Reserve, increasing the tiger numbers ‘from 18 to 50 tigers between 2009 and 2013 in Bardia.'(Global Forrest Watch) In contrast, the Basanta corridor lost 0.7 % of its trees, ultimately cutting the connectivity between the northern and southern populations.
The most effective way to be a part of saving the tigers is to donate. Many people can’t be on the front line fighting poachers, preserving forests, and planting trees. But almost everyone can donate to the many non-profit organizations on the front lines to save tigers and their ecosystems. Giving to groups like WWF (The World Wildlife Fund) who already achieved more than half its goal of doubling the tiger population, can help expand the program so that they can triple and someday quadruple the populations. Other associations like Wildlife Conservation Society has been responsible for over 75% of all peer-reviewed published tiger research, that has changed and improved the way we preserve and protect the tigers.
Tigers populations and their crucial ecosystems are under attack and unless nations around the world work together to protect and preserve tigers they will soon become extinct. Tigers are essential animals that help keep ecosystems stable. The world needs to be aware of the impacts of habitat destruction and poaching on our world.