A century ago there were an estimated 100,000 tigers in the wild. Now, fewer than 6,000 wild tigers remain. That’s less than the population of Pittsboro, North Carolina. Does that number shock you? It should!
Why are wild tigers disappearing?
Tigers have lost approximately 95% of their historical range in favor of human activity. Agricultural activities and development projects are responsible for the majority of this destruction, which poses a severe threat to what few tigers remain. Tigers need large areas of land for their survival, making the fragmentation of existing habitats all the more dangerous.
Humans and tigers are at odds in the competition for space. As their habitat shrinks, tigers venture into human-populated areas to hunt domestic livestock and risk being killed out of retaliation. This also leaves them vulnerable to poaching.
The illegal wildlife trade is also responsible for the decrease in wild tiger populations, and is their most immediate threat. The belief that tiger parts contain medicinal properties is still widely held in a number of cultures, despite no evidence to support that claim. The death of one tiger at the hands of poachers has far-reaching consequences.
What is being done to save tigers in the wild?
To combat the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation, wildlife corridors are being developed and utilized in tiger range countries (TRCs) to connect fragments of tiger conservation landscapes. These corridors allow tigers to travel safely between islands of habitat, find their own territory, and meet potential mates that are genetically different from themselves.
Protections for parks and tiger habitats in TRCs have increased, as have efforts to combat poaching. Trap cameras are utilized in Indian national parks to monitor population numbers, conduct scientific studies, and find potential poachers!
Work is also being done to reduce poaching. While some anti-poaching strategy involves increased patrols in or near protected tiger habitats and utilizing technology to monitor, find, and capture poachers, a lot of work is being done to mitigate the need to poach as well as reduce the demand for tiger parts.
Reducing human-tiger conflict is also a tricky issue to solve. Much of this strategy is situational, but remedies exist that benefit both humans and tigers: land use management strategies, community-based resource management, and compensation for the loss of livestock are just three of many ways governments and NGOs are working to reduce human-tiger conflict.
What can you do to help save wild tigers?
1. Reduce or eliminate your consumption of palm oil – tiger habitat is being destroyed to develop cheap and productive palm oil plantations. Every hour, 300 football fields-worth of land is cleared for these farms, leaving tiger habitats destroyed and/or fragmented. Palm oil is found in approximately 50% of household products, including food and beauty items, so read ingredient labels before you purchase those cookies or night cream! Reducing demand is the best way to have an effect on the devastation to tigers caused by habitat loss!
2. Coffee connoisseurs! Look for sustainably sourced coffee – coffee production in Sumatra, Indonesia can often be unsustainable and contribute to the loss of Sumatran tiger habitat. Look for Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee to drink for your morning wake-up call, and help support sustainable coffee farmers everywhere!
3. Look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified or 100-percent recycled tissue products – valuable rainforests that serve as tiger habitat are being cut down to cheaply produce toilet paper and other paper products that wind up on American shelves.
4. Stay away from the exotic animal trade – never contribute to the buying or selling of illegal wildlife goods. Tiger parts are traded all over the world, so don’t get sucked into buying something that may have come from a tiger or other exotic/endangered species.
5. Talk to your friends and family! Bringing awareness to the issues wild tigers face and understanding how you can help can have a lasting impact on wild tiger populations. You can make a difference! Share this post to spread the word!
You can help captive tigers too!
It’s estimated that there are anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 captive tigers in the U.S., with only a small percentage of those tigers found in accredited zoos and sanctuaries. The rest are in the hands of private owners, roadside zoos, or entertainment venues. It’s important to know what you can do to help captive tigers!
1. If you are interested in visiting a sanctuary, check to see if they are GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries)-accredited. GFAS holds facilities to the highest standards in animal care and welfare, ensuring the health and safety of both animals and visitors.
2. Never pay to pet a tiger cub. The impacts of cub petting on both mother and cub are vast, and you can also be jeopardizing your own health and safety by handling an animal that is under duress. Facilities that offer cub petting are only out to make a buck and do NOT have animal welfare in mind. Learn about the realities of cub petting in the below infographic, courtesy of the BCSA.
3. Learn! Visit the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance’s website to learn about our sister institutions. Check out GFAS’s website to better understand appropriate standards for animal care that are required for accreditation. Visit the websites linked above to learn about what exactly the Big Cat Public Safety Act is calling for. Share the information you learn so that your friends and family can help captive tigers too!