The month of September, designated as National Save a Tiger Month, serves as a reminder that the largest cat in the world is struggling for survival, with 4,000 tigers left in the wild, according to World Wildlife Fund’s Dr. Shannon Barber-Meyer, Tiger Conservation Program officer.
The depletion of prey and habitat as a result of uncontrolled development and poaching for the illegal trade in tiger skins and bones has led to the sharp decline in tiger numbers from more than 100,000 a century ago.
Efforts to reverse the downward trend include the new Tiger Conservation Initiative, a worldwide alliance of tiger conservationists, scientists and celebrities that have joined forces with the World Bank Group and the Global Environment Facility to help save wild tigers. The program kicks off with a series of dialogues in tiger range countries to find out what has worked locally to protect the tigers and their 13 landscapes, which include Russia, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Dr. Barber-Meyer of World Wildlife Fund, a partner in the new initiative, said tigers occupy only 7 percent of their range and 40 percent less than they did a decade ago, a grim reality that shows wild tigers are in a perilous situation. The biggest threats to tigers include the following:
- Killing tigers directly to fuel demand for the black-market tiger trade
- Depletion of tiger habitat as a result of logging and urban expansion
- Loss of prey that supports tigers, such as deer, wild pig and cattle
“These threats are just everywhere,” Dr. Barber-Meyer said, “and they are very real and at scales that are very alarming.”
The decline in tiger numbers must be reversed before it gets beyond saving, she said, adding that the key to saving tigers is going to be successful anti-poach patrol and enforcement.
Cat owners, she said, can rally behind these efforts knowing that there’s a real connection. “We’ve got this domesticated animal in our home and a cousin is out there in the wild struggling for survival,” she said.
She pointed out that tigers, just like domestic cats, do have a high reproductive rate and are able to rebound with the help of efforts such as the Tiger Conservation Initiative.