“Its not whether animals will survive, its whether man has the will to save them” - Anthony Douglas Williams
It has been optimistically reported in recent years that the global tiger population has risen for the first time in a century. In 2010, their numbers had reached the known all time low at 3,200 individual tigers; a number, which has now, reached roughly 3,900. While this has been heralded as a great improvement and seen by some to be a call for celebration, it isn’t: it’s a call for action.
In the past one hundred years, humanity has successfully brought every Tiger sub-species to the edge of complete extinction. In total, since the turn of the twentieth century, an estimated 96,000 tigers have died as a result of a myriad of factors – all of which are as a result of people.
Currently, tigers exist in a total of 11 Asian countries: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Only 8 of these, however, are confirmed to be the home of breeding populations, meaning that their mere presence does not ensure survival.
As it stands, tigers inhabit just 4% of their original, historic range, which spanned from the most eastern tip of Russia to Bangladesh, as well as large swatches of central Asia. Now, however, their range has been limited to what little jungle remains for habitation, resulting in their extinction in a total of 10 countries.
Why, though, is this happening? What is it exactly that’s happening? And what can be done to help?
The most direct damage done to this beautiful species is their being hunted and poached. In essence, there exists a $20 billion illegal wildlife market, which makes it profitable to continually brutalise an already brutalised animal. While you might think that their hide is what makes them attractive to poachers, which is indeed a factor, the reality is far more grisly.
For more than a millennia, tiger parts have been included in the traditional Chinese medicine regime; one founded one the premise of mythical and religious doctrine and practice. Their strength and perceived mystical power has led to the inclusion of a variety of tiger parts in medicines, which claim to treat everything from insomnia to malaria. Their eyes, for example, are used to treat epilepsy while their brain is used to treat laziness and pimples. For a full list on the supposed medical benefits of tiger parts, read this article from Tigers In Crisis:
It bears reasserting that these “medicines” provide no medical benefit.
As we have discussed, tiger habitats are being increasingly demolished in the wake of industrialised agriculture. Population booms in East Asia during the 20th century necessitated a greater supply of food, which necessitated in turn a greater area of land for growing said food. Indonesia, for example, has the same population as the United States, however, only has 1/10th of the land. In China, the population has doubled in the past 40 years and as it came so went 99% of China’s original forested areas. Areas in these countries, which were once home to tigers, have since become home to rice.
As their habitat recedes, and their hunting range with it, the food supply available to tigers begins to dwindle evermore. More over, what little food remains in their natural enclosures they must compete for with humans who themselves often rely on the jungle for sources of sustenance. Human populations who continue to encroach on tiger habitats increasingly hunt their prey –hogs, deer and other small mammals – forcing the animals into direct competition with us.
As a result, tigers must all the more frequently relocate to new territory which all to often takes them into human dominated spaces, which lie between fragments of their natural habitat. Given their dwindling food supply, they often then prey upon domesticated animals of the local human population – an act that often results in retaliatory killings due to the loss of livestock to farmers who depend on their herds for financial security. These “conflict” tigers also tend to end up on the black market for later use in traditional medicines.
Finally, we come to climate change – an existential threat to the survival of our planet, and to the already fragile ecosystems which tigers call home. Adverse weather conditions and rising tides couple to threaten tigers, specifically those that live in the Sundarbans – a large mangrove between Bangladesh and India. As water levels rise and storms continue to batter the region, this habitat becomes less and less habitable for the animals that live there. Once again, this perilous situation forces the tigers inland, into the path of human populations that feel increasingly threatened by their presence on the basis of economic and security reasons.
How then can we help? Well, there a number of institutions that operate worldwide which assist in the conservation of tigers in a variety of ways. Living with Tigers, for example, the charity which we support through Chester Zoo, work alongside communities which border tiger territories and aim to support and educate them to reduce human-tiger conflict. In total they work with 1200 households, developing opportunities to reduce their dependence on the forested areas where tigers live. They also provide tiger-proof livestock fencing to prevent economic damage by desperate tigers, which in turn leads to their perception as pests and subsequent attempts at eradication. Their work focuses primarily in Nepal, on the southern border with India in the Chitwan and Bardia National Parks. To learn more and to donate, follow the link below:
There is also another Tiger conservation charity of the same now who focus their efforts in Satpuda, an area in central India. Here, Born Free’s Living with Tigers initiative safeguard the habitat of tigers and, with their Mobile Education Unit, teach local communities and their children about co-existence, wildlife conservation and identify signs of tiger presence. You can learn more about their work here:
Finally, we have the heavy hitting WWF who tackle the problem of tiger endangerment in a number of direct and indirect ways, combining cultural and economic solutions in the local and wider community. In necessary areas, the WWF focus on alleviating the burden of poverty, providing communities greater opportunities that do not put them in direct competition with tigers or their habitat. At present, the WWF are aiming to double the number of wild tigers by 2022; the next Chinese year of the tiger. In order to do so, they work with every country in which tigers are found and, thanks to their collective concerted effort, tiger number began to grow once more; as we addressed at the beginning. To help, learn more and donate, follow the link below:
If you care for these animals and their continued existence, please, donate, protest or simply raise awareness for their plight. Tigers will almost certainly never recover to their original population size, but with continued support we can ensure their survival and, hopefully, learn to inhabit this planet alongside them.
Luke Macpherson, Guest Blogger