|A magnificent Tiger of Banhavgarh|
-Image by Wikimedia Commons
There are now two recognised subspecies of Tiger. The Continental Tiger (Panthera Tigris Tigris) which weighs in at around 300 Kg (660lbs) and the Sunda Tiger (Panthera Tigris Sonacia) which weighs about half as much. Mostly they are solitary hunters and can eat up to 36 Kgs (80 lbs) of meat a day.
A hundred years ago there were around 100,000 Tigers in the wild, but today there are only around 3,900. Now found in only 6% of their range, they live throughout Asia – in Cambodia, in China, in Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia , Myanmar, Russia and Thailand with the largest population in India and the second largest in Russia. In Indonesia they are extinct in Java and Bali and only exist on the island of Sumatra where less than 400 remain.and are Critically Endangered in both Sumatra and Malaysia.The Caspian Tiger is extinct in the wild and with only five Tigers left at last count in 2018), it s regarded as functionally extinct in Southern China. The UN regards all Tigers as as Endangered.
While habitat loss and fragmentation due to forest clearance and population growth are major problems, poaching (see below) is also a major threat. As their prey base shrinks, Tigers attack domestic livestock and come into conflict with humans. One novel threat faced by Tigers in India is that the largest conservation area, on the coast of western India, may be inundated by sea water as sea levels rise. See World Wildlife Fund for more detail on this.
All trade in Tigers and other Asian big cat species has been prohibited by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species since 1975 (with the exception of the Asiatic lion and the Amur tiger Panthera tigris altaica, which were included in 1977 and 1987, respectively). (CITES)
Although 182 countries have ratified this Convention, implementation is inconsistent and illegal trade in Tigers and their parts has not only continued but escalated. In the last decade 2,300 Tigers are known to have been seized, though many more remain undocumented, along with unlawful killings and natural deaths. While many Tiger Range Countries (TRCs), especially Nepal have stepped up their efforts at law enforcement, there has been a steep drop in seizures in all countries since 2016. Furthermore, penalties in many countries particularly in Vietnam and and Indonesia, have been so low - fines below $USD 2,000 or prison terms as low as one year, as to fail to act as a deterrent.
There are other criticisms of the convention too. For example, it focuses on individual species, not on protecting their habitat which covers their prey as well. Agreement is voluntary and unenforceable. Data depends on self -reporting and regulation, not independent monitoring and assessment. It also depends on adequate funds, personnel, training and technology being made available to do the job properly and largely ignores both the poverty and demand which drive poaching.
Given the high volume of seizures, it is apparent that some of the Tiger skins and parts have come from captive breeding facilities, yet there is no evidence that they relieve pressure on wild populations. Rather they encourage and obscure leakage from wild populations which are often the source of breeding stock.
Among a list of recommendations the latest Conference of the Parties calls for:
- Uniform and stronger legislation and law enforcement and not just in Tiger Range Countries but transit countries such as Vietnam and Hong Kong and especially consumer states.
- Standardised Data bases for recording origin of seizures including photographs, forensic markers and genetic markers to enable accurate pinpointing the source.
- Registration, monitoring, auditing and control of any captive breeding facilities.
(Most of this information comes from the detailed report "Skin and Bones: Unresolved"
"Whether for medicine, health tonics, or decoration, these commodities are highly sought after as a symbol of wealth and status, particularly in Asian countries. However, demand is also strong in the USA and the EU too plays a role as a conduit for this illegal trade (see "Falling through the system").
Real men don’t need Tiger parts
I don't wish to offend or criticise other cultures – heaven knows there’s enough wrong with my own, but let me say that it’s a shame that rising affluence in some Asian countries has not been accompanied by an equally rapid rise in consciousness – namely that animals are sentient beings and not there for our pleasure or use.
There is no scientific evidence whatever that tiger parts or for that matter rhino horns, enhance performance or that putting an animal skin on your walls, floor or person enhances your status. Rather, respect these days a least in more enlightened parts of the world, comes from helping to protect endangered species and their habitat, not in owning or killing them, yet old beliefs die hard.
Killing of necessity is one thing, but killing for vanity is out. We too still have those who think that taking the life of an animal makes them more manly, just as New Guinea highlanders believed that eating the brains of their enemies conferred special qualities such as strength and stamina on them, when instead it gave them a brain infection akin to mad cow disease. Fortunately, as with other brutal entertainments of the past such as public hangings or bear baiting, the tide is turning against trophy hunting. Remember the global outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion?
However, before Europeans and others congratulate themselves too
much on how far we have come, questions were raised in the EU Parliament last
year “ calling for explanation of the lack of oversight of tigers kept in
captivity in the EU, the illegal transportation of tigers across EU Member
States and the EU’s facilitation of the commercial trade in tigers,
particularly as it goes against CITES Decision 14.69.1" (Falling through the System, 2020:44)
Captive Breeding Facilities
It's true that some of the seized Tiger skins and parts have come from captive breeding facilities, yet there is no evidence that they relieve pressure on wild populations, but they do encourage leakage. Several of the specimens which have been identified, are known to come from places adjacent to reserves or from sanctuaries themselves. Breeding for commercial purposes is illegal in the EU and only allowed for scientific purposes or replenishing wild stocks, but there are also still some exemptions for things like circuses and these are not well monitored. We'll speak more on Big Cats in captivity after the section on Lions and Cheetahs. It seems to me that if penalties were higher, countries could afford better law enforcement, more rangers, better fencing for farmers and possibly even compensation for farmers who lose livestock, which is what the EU does with respect to wolves.
There’s a bit of good news about Tigers too. In the 2019 census, and thanks to a huge crackdown on poaching, particularly in India, Bhutan and Russia, there are now believed to be around 3,800. It’s the first time numbers have increased since 1900, though they still fall well short of the vision of doubling wild Tiger numbers by 2020 when Wild Tiger Day was established in 2015. Even in places such as Cambodia where Tigers were considered extinct, a reintroduction program has begun.
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How to celebrate World Tiger Day
So what can you do on world Tiger Day? Obviously you can support any of the groups mentioned here by volunteering, donating or holding a fundraiser. You could also say "Hi!" and learn about Tigers at your nearest zoo or you could create artwork or projects highlighting their plight. In Indonesia an awareness program was accompanied by 371 papier mache tigers displayed in a shopping mall in Jakarta to show how many Tigers were left. Face painting in tiger patterns or even just your thumbs for the THUMBS UP FOR TIGERS project seems to have been popular too. Click here for some suggestions from the World Wildlife Fund who are working to protect Tiger habitat.Organisations which help Tigers
Big Cat Allies - look under the various headings
Wild Cats Conservation Alliance Works with Tiger Range Countries to create Tiger Conservation Areas
Next: Lions and Cheetahs