Endangered Tigers: Preserve the Wild Cats

Wildlife — By Stephanie on October 28, 2009 at 2:33 pm

There can be no pussy-footing around the reality of the situation.  A number of tiger species are seriously endangered.  Fewer than 100 of certain subspecies exist in the wild.  Sadly, the population of tigers overall has declined 99% over the past century, and 3 subspecies have vanished altogether.

Tigers are considered to be critically endangered, with total numbers hovering between 4,500 and 7,500 of all combined subspecies.  Remaining tigers in the wild live in small, isolated populations in widely scattered reserves, unable to effectively hunt and reproduce.

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How many more years will tigers exist in the wild? (image from spisharam on Flickr)

The Amur (Siberian), Malayan, South China, Indo-Chinese, Royal Bengal and Sumatran Tigers are on the brink of extinction.  Part of the reason is the fragmented habitat of the wild cat.  With shrinking areas in which to roam, hunt and reproduce, inbreeding and disease makes strong tiger populations less and less likely with every coming year.

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Habitat for the tigers must be preserved if the species are to survive (image from fPat on Flickr)

In the past, tigers have made their homes from Siberia to Bali, and Turkey to the east coasts of Russia and China. These gorgeous wild cats roam mountains, forests and jungles, adapting to a wide variety of terrain.  However, tigers prefer to live in the underbrush, hiding in tall grasses, and using their natural camouflage to hide from prey.  This is the reason for those beautiful black and orange stripes.

Today, tigers are endangered primarily because they are being squeezed out by expanding human populations, and also because poachers continue to prey on the cats for their skins and other body parts, used in Chinese medicines.  Like Elephants and the Giant Panda, the habitat of the tigers is being separated/fragmented, which makes it harder for their survival.

Since 1969, an official ban on the export of tiger pelts from India has existed.  The Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) also enacted a ban on buying/selling tiger parts a few years later.  But these measures didn’t stop China and Taiwan, which until at least 1993 continued black market operations to sell tiger parts.

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A Young Tiger Cub (image from MacJewell on Flickr)

The tiger was first declared an endangered species in 1969.  However, by then 2 of the 3 subspecies lost in recent years were already gone.

The massive decline of tiger populations can be attributed to several factors: (1)  loss of thick forests in Asia, due to agricultural clearing.  Tigers lose their vegetative cover, are forced into inhabited areas for prey, and get killed by people protecting livestock; (2) tiger poaching – even though its illegal, people may take risks because the payout is so high. From $20,000 for a tiger hide, to hundreds of dollars per pound for an intact tiger forearm, and even lucrative Tiger penis soup (going for over $300 per bowl in Taiwan), every part of the tiger may be “on the market,” whether legal or not. Bones, eyes, whiskers and claws have found their way into exotic elixirs.

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Tiger cub frolicking in the snow (image from dpape on Flickr)

Consider these shocking facts:

  • There were 9 original subspecies of tigers
  • In the past 60 years, the Bali tiger, the Caspian tiger, and the Javan tiger have all become extinct (about one subspecies every 20 years)
  • From about 100,000 tigers in the 1900s, the population number dropped to 4,000 by the 1970s
  • Tigers are critically endangered with numbers hovering between 4,500 and 7,500 of all combined subspecies.
  • All remaining tigers live in small, isolated populations in widely scattered reserves.

Wild tigers are magnificent creatures.  When one views a photograph or watches a video of these animals, you cannot help but be in awe of their beauty and strength.  Doesn’t it make you want to protect and preserve them?

A curious sub-culture has arisen as a result of the endangered status of the tiger.  Some people are breeding domestic cats to resemble their wild counterparts.  The so-called “Toygers” look like miniature tigers.  Their beauty notwithstanding, one can easily determine that they will never replace the original tiger.

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Open Wide! A precious Toyger cat could be devoured in a single bite (image from Todd Ryburn on Flickr)

You are not helpless in working to save endangered tigers!  Just think if everyone in your neighborhood gave $1?  What if each person in your city did the same?

Here’s what you can do to preserve the wild cats:

  1. Write to your congressperson, the Secretary of the Interior (Ken Salazar) and/or President Clinton. Tell them that you are concerned about the tigers and ask them to continue national and international efforts to preserve the species.
  2. Pledge monetary donations to Adopt-A-Tiger at The Tiger Foundation, and/or become a member.
  3. Join the Global Tiger Patrol, a conservation agency which places a priority on protection of the tiger in the field, especially India.
  4. Look into the Save the Tiger Fund, a program of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
  5. Keep track of the latest endangered species news at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

We don’t have to stand by and allow endangered tigers to become extinct.   Please consider their future, and think about what you can do to help preserve these wild cats.

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