Tigers—an iconic species in danger of extinction
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Tigers under threat
Today there are believed to be fewer than 2,500 breeding adult Tigers left in the wild, and their numbers are declining. Tigers are listed as Endangered by the IUCN.
The greatest threats to Tigers are habitat loss, poaching and lack of sufficient prey.
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, and more than 40% of their range in the last decade. Much of the remaining habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented.
Today, Tigers are found only in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Viet Nam, and possibly in North Korea.
In the early 1990s, trade in Tiger parts was banned worldwide, but 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-animal conflicts—people seeking to protect life and livestock.
A recent 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. The owners of such farms are pressuring the government to allow them to produce Tiger products, and 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).
Market surveys by TRAFFIC indicate that medicinal use of Tiger bone has decreased since China banned Tiger bone in 1993, but any lifting of the Tiger trade ban would spell disaster for wild Tigers. It would fuel demand for Tiger parts, which would be far cheaper to obtain through poaching than from captive-bred animals.
The captive Tiger population in China is around 5,000 animals; a similar number exists in the US.
The Global Tiger Forum brings together Tiger range State governments with other governments and NGO members to promote conservation of Tigers.
Some national governments, such as India through a special Project Tiger programme, have invested huge sums in Tiger conservation.
Tigers are listed in Appendix I of CITES, which bans all international trade, and all Tiger range States and countries with consumer markets have banned domestic trade too.
However, domestic legislation is weak or non-existent in some countries, notably the US, where a recent 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.
The World Bank recently made a commitment to support Tiger conservation.
In January 2008, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Panthera Foundation announced plans to establish a 5,000 mile-long “genetic corridor” spanning 8 countries from Bhutan to Myanmar to conserve the largest block of Tiger habitat on earth.
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 India recently provided metal detectors and training to help park guards detect the use of illegal metal snares in Tiger reserves.
TRAFFIC is also developing a database to monitor all seizures and trade in Tiger parts. It is being modeled on ETIS, a database that has proved successful for monitoring illegal ivory trade and ensuring effective action is taken to curtail it.
TRAFFIC also helps to raise awareness about the conservation plight of wild Tigers.
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
The TRAFFIC East Asia - Japan office has further information about Tigers (in Japanese).
TRAFFIC has also teamed up with Chantecaille, a leading makeup, skincare and fragrance company, whose 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.