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In 2014, there were believed to be approximately 3,200 wild Tigers in Asia, with fewer than 2,500 breeding adults. Tigers are listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Poaching for their parts and habitat loss are both major threats to Tigers. Between 2000 and 2014, TRAFFIC's research found that parts of a minimum of 1,590 Tigers were seized in Tiger range States, an average of two Tigers per week.
Tiger taxonomy is currently under review, however the IUCN currently recognises six subspecies, three of which are considered to be Critically Endangered; the South China Tiger, the Sumatran Tiger and the Malayan Tiger. The first of these has not been observed in the wild since the 1970s and may be extinct. Three further subspecies have been declared extinct; Bali, Caspian and Javan Tigers.
Once found across Asia, from Turkey to eastern Russia, over the past century Tigers have disappeared from south-west and central Asia, from Java and Bali in Indonesia and from large parts of South-east and East Asia. Tigers have lost 93% of their historic range, a figure reflecting both real decline and an increased effort in more accurate mapping. Much of the remaining habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented as a consequence of human activity. Today, Tigers are found only in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Viet Nam.
The main threat to tigers is poaching, due to the demand for products made from Tiger parts, but there are other threats, in particular habitat loss due to human development of land for commercial, residential and agricultural use, and a lack of sufficient prey due to the pressure placed on habitats by human activity.
In 1975, Tigers were listed in Appendix I of CITES, which prevents their commercial international trade. Nevertheless, Tigers remain in serious danger from illegal wildlife trade—poaching—mainly for their bones for use in traditional Asian medicines, and for their pelts and other body parts, such as teeth, skin and claws, as decorative items.
Many Tigers are also killed because of human-tiger conflicts—people seeking to protect life and livestock.
A TRAFFIC survey found body parts from an estimated 23 Tigers on sale in Sumatra, where the Critically Endangered population of Tigers is believed to number fewer than 500 animals—the last Tigers left in Indonesia.
In China, several operations are engaged in intensive breeding (“farming”) of Tigers. At least one farm has been found to sell Tiger bone and meat illegally. At the 14th Conference of the Parties to CITES delegates called for an end to Tiger farming (the production of Tiger products from captive animals).
Research by TRAFFIC, published in 'Taming the Tiger Trade' found that medicinal use of Tiger bone had decreased since China banned Tiger trade in 1993. However, the report found that any lifting of the Tiger trade ban would spell disaster for wild Tigers.
Examples of illegal trade in Tigers
• In 2010, Viet Nam police uncovered a bone trade network operated by a couple, finding 6 compete tiger skeletons alongside a further 32 kg of Tiger bones.
• In 2012 a notorious wildlife dealer was caught with a tiger skin and skeleton, amongst other illegal wildlife goods, in a collaborative investigation in India
• In March 2014, police in China arrested a gang of 16 men believed to have killed more than 10 tigers to supply wealthy businessmen and officials.
• In 2014 Thai police seized 5 wild tiger cubs being smuggled to Laos, with the ultimate destination thought to be Vietnam or China.
• In February, 2015, authorities arrested 3 tiger poachers and seized tiger pelt and 9 kg of skin and bones in Sarolangun, Jambi, Indonesia. The gang was believed to have operated in the area for a long time, poaching and selling tigers to parties in West Sumatra, Riau and Medan.
A key aspect of tiger product demand is that the wealth of the buyer tends to drive the demand, rather than the poverty of the sellers and traders. Tiger products are used for a wide variety of purposes, from medicine to meat, and are increasingly becoming seen as a status symbol across parts of Asia.
A number of initatives are underway aiming to conserve wild Tigers. Some examples include:
The Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), a programme endorsed by all 13 Tiger range countries that came about at the Tiger Summit held in St. Petersburg in 2010. The overall goal is to double the number of wild tigers by 2022.
TRAFFIC is a driving force behind the TX2 initiative, working to stop the illegal wildlife trade and reduce consumer demand. This summit also resulted in the creation of a Global Tiger Day, held annually on July 29th in order to promote awareness about the need to protect tigers through conservation initiatives.
Tigernet is a website launched in 2009 by the Indian government, aiming to collate information about Tiger mortalities, poaching and the seizure of Tiger parts in order to facilitate improvements in India’s anti-poaching efforts.
The Kunming Consensus, the output of an international meeting on transboundary conservation of Tigers, held in China in 2013. The Consensus makes several recommendations regarding collaborative law enforcement efforts, particularly regarding improvements in information sharing and co-ordination between Tiger range States.
Tigers are listed in Appendix I of CITES, which bans all international trade for commercial purposes for all member countries to CITES. However, domestic legislation is weak or non-existent in some countries, notably the US, where a TRAFFIC report found the government has no way of knowing how many Tigers there are in captivity, where they are, who owns them, or what happens to their body parts when they die.
TRAFFIC’s work to conserve Tigers
TRAFFIC monitors wildlife markets in Asia and elsewhere, our experts identifying any Tiger parts being traded (there are many fake “Tiger parts” in circulation), and informing the appropriate authorities of required action to curb such trade.
TRAFFIC also works with enforcement authorities and governments to take action to protect Tigers. For example, TRAFFIC has provided metal detectors and training to help park guards detect the use of illegal metal snares in Tiger reserves in India.
TRAFFIC also helps to raise awareness about the conservation plight of wild Tigers.
In 2010, TRAFFIC worked alongside the World Federation of Chinese Medicine, who called for their members to cease using tiger parts in their products, signalling clearly that there is no place for the illegal wildlife trade within Chinese and traditional medicines.
The UK government announced in 2014 that it had backed a TRAFFIC-led programme aiming to change consumer behaviour and reduce the demand for Tiger parts.
TRAFFIC is a founding member of the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT), which in April 2015 partnered with the Football Association of Malaysia to raise awareness and increase support for the conservation of tigers within Malaysia.
In 2013 TRAFFIC published ‘Reduced to Skin and Bones Revisited’, containing statistics regarding the Tiger trade. It found that parts of 1,425 tigers had been seized across 12 countries between 2000 and 2012. The report also analysed seizures to allow the identification of Tiger trade hotspots in India.
A TRAFFIC briefing paper, Deciding the Tiger's future (PDF, 200 KB) and a discussion document, Revitalizing the Global Tiger Forum (PDF, 120 KB), prepared for the Global Tiger Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal, October 2009.
More about TRAFFIC's work on Tiger conservation is available from reports in the Publications section of the TRAFFIC website, under Cats.
TRAFFIC also publishes Tiger Chronicles, a newsletter which highlights the problems Tigers across the globe are facing.
TRAFFIC has also teamed up with Chantecaille, a leading makeup, skincare and fragrance company, who recently launched Le Tigre collection features the Bengal Tiger. 5% of the profits from sales of the collection are being donated to TRAFFIC to help fund our conservation work saving wild Tigers.