Tigers are becoming synonymous with conservation efforts. They are an iconic big cat and, sadly, their populations are declining worldwide, with the whole species being classified as endangered. Three subspecies of tiger have become extinct in the last 80 years alone and the South China Tiger is now considered functionally extinct, with no wild sightings in over 25 years and the remaining 65 animals in captivity. There is now an estimated worldwide population of just 3,948, around 20% of which live in captivity. To put that in perspective that’s about as many tigers in the whole world as there are people in just one square kilometre of Blackpool. Of the six surviving subspecies of tiger one of the most endangered is the Sumatran Tiger, native to the Indonesian island.
They are the smallest surviving sub-specie of tiger and, to camouflage themselves in their small forest habitat, have evolved to sport the narrowest stripes.
How many are there?
While great measures are being taken there to conserve the animals, it is estimated that only 400-500 animals survive to this day.
Why are they endangered?
Their population is suffering because their habitat is receding for palm oil and acacia plantations, and because their prey-bases are diminishing. Also, despite the tiger being a protected species and the practice being completely illegal, poaching is a serious concern with pelts, bones and teeth in demand; a trader can earn a year’s wages from just one tiger skeleton. A recent study found that 10% of retail outlets in Sumatra had tiger parts for sale, ranging from skins and whiskers to bones and canine teeth. While most sales appear to be domestic there have been reports of parts being smuggled out of the country for foreign trade, with the bones in particular being prized for their properties according to traditional Chinese medicine.
What is being done?
It’s not all bad news on the tiger front, in fact that government-sponsored scheme, Project Tiger in India, has made huge efforts to limit destruction of habitats and repair damaged ecosystems to such an extent that the tiger population in the country actually increased between their surveys in 2006 and 2010.
If you’d like to support these beautiful creatures there are plenty of wonderful charities to choose from. Recently Panthera (who kindly allowed us to use the photographs) and Save the Tiger Fund joined forces and redoubled their conservation efforts. You could also choose to sponsor a tiger through the World Wildlife Fund. The Wildlife Conservation Society is working in nine of the thirteen countries where wild tiger populations exist to preserve their habitats and 21st Century Tiger also sponsors and supports conservation efforts.