The Tigers Plight

 

THE STORY OF TIGERS IN CRISIS

The tiger, a critically endangered species, once lived in a vast region of wilderness that extended as far north as Siberia, as far south as the Indonesian island of Bali, as far west as Turkey, and as far east as the Russian and Chinese coasts.

From icy cold mountains and forests to steamy, tropical jungles, the tiger species has adapted to a variety of terrain.

Unlike lions, leopards and cheetahs, tigers prefer to live in densely covered land where they can hide in tall grasses, camouflaged by their dark stripes, and ambush their prey.

Tigers increasingly compete with expanding human population and industry for land and food, and many are killed by poachers who sell their skins and body parts as ingredients for traditional Chinese medicines.

If these trends continue,the wild tiger may evolve from being an endangered species and off the endangered species list to become an extinct species.

A few of the remaining endangered sub-species may survive only in zoos; others will live only in stories, pictures and myths, never again to roam the earth.

 

 

THE CRISIS TIGERS FACE

The tiger, one of the most magnificent animals in the world, is also one of the most endangered species in the world. A cat of beauty, strength, and majesty, the tiger is master of all and subject to none — except humans.

Of the eight original subspecies of tigers, three have become extinct within the last 60 years; and there are less than 50 South China tigers left on this planet – few, and possibly none, survive in the wild.

 

 

In dense forests, it is easiest for a tiger to sneak up on prey when it is alone. Partly for this reason, unlike lions, tigers live solitary lives. Young tigers live with their mother until they are two or three years old — old enough to fend for themselves and find territories of their own. Territories can range from 10 to 600 square miles.

Largest of all cats, tigers are formidable predators. With razor sharp claws, long teeth, and powerful jaws and legs, tigers can bring down animals far heavier than themselves, including buffalo, deer and wild boar. The tiger’s speed and refined hunting skills also capture feasts of small prey, contributing to the 40 to 100 pounds (18 to 45 kg) of meat that tigers can eat in a day.

All tigers are striped. Like human faces, each tiger’s markings are unique. The large, male Siberian tiger can grow to 13 feet (4 meters) in length and weigh 700 pounds (317 kg). Their long tails help them keep their balance through fast running turns. Their tails are also used to communicate with other tigers.

Since 1900, the endangered tiger’s habitat and numbers have been reduced by up to 95 per cent. Poachers continue to poison waterholes or set steel wire snares to kill tigers and tiger prey, selling their skins and body parts for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

Despite 20 years of international conservation efforts, we are losing ground to save the tiger as, on the endangered species list, all sub-species of tigers are considered critically endangered species.

 

OVERVIEW OF TIGERS IN CRISIS:

Of the original nine subspecies of tigers, three have become extinct in the last 80 years; an average of one every 20 years. It has been predicted all tigers may become extinct in the wild within the next decade.

Poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation have reduced the global population of tigers from over 100,000 in the 1900′s, to less than 4,000 in the 1970′s.

Today, four of the remaining subspecies of tigers are considered endangered by the IUCN, while two of the subspecies are considered “critically” endangered. The total number of all the wild populations of the six remaining subspecies of tigers (Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Siberian, South China, and Sumatran) is estimated to be between 3,000 – 3,600 tigers.

REMAINING TIGER SUBSPECIES:

Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) are the most numerous tiger subspecies with its remaining wild populations estimated at around 2,500. The Bengal tiger roams a wide range of habitats including high altitudes, tropical and subtropical rainforests, mangroves, and grasslands. They are primarily found in parts of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Bengal tigers are sometimes called Indian tigers and account for over half of all tigers remaining in the wild. Poaching for tiger parts is their major threat. The Bengal tiger is classified as endangered by the IUCN.

Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti) are located in Thailand, Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. The population of this subspecies had fallen by more than 70 percent in slightly more than a decade, and the total population of Indochinese tigers is estimated at fewer than 300 individuals. However, due to restricted access to areas where the Indochinese tiger lives, little is known about their population status. Human development, such as road construction is fragmenting habitats. And decades of poaching has also contributed to their rapid decline. The Indochinese tiger is classified as endangered by the IUCN.

Malayan tigers (Panthera tigris jacksoni) are found only on the Malay Peninsula and in the southern tip of Thailand. They were recently recognized as a new subspecies closely related to –but being genetically distinct- from the Indochinese tiger. Habitat fragmentation due to development projects and agriculture, along with commercial poaching are serious threats to the remaining 500 Malayan tigers. In Malaysia there is a very active market for tiger meat and manufactured tiger bone medicines. The Malayan tiger is classified as endangered by the IUCN.

 Siberian tigers or Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) are found mainly in the Sikhote Alin mountain region and the southwest Primorye province in the Russian Far East. It is estimated there are around 300 Siberian tigers in this region with small pockets of Siberian tigers in China and North Korea. The primary threats to the survival of Siberian tigers are poaching and habitat loss from intensive logging and development.  The Siberian Tiger is classified as endangered by the IUCN.

South China tigers (Panthera tigris amoyensis) are the smallest of all the tiger subspecies; it is also the most critically endangered. Little is known about their exact numbers in the wild, but some estimates would put the number at under 20 tigers. Others would say that estimate is high and that the South China tiger is extinct in the wild. The reality is that no South China tiger has been seen in the wild for the last 20 years. The South China tiger was native to the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi in southern China. However now, the less than 100 South China tigers that remain on the face of the earth, are found only in Chinese zoos. The South China tiger is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra off the Malaysian Peninsula. Their habitat ranges from lowland forest to mountain forest and includes evergreen, swamp and tropical rain forests. It is estimated that only between 500-600 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild, and the actual number may be as low as 400. The major threats to Sumatran tigers are habitat loss due to expansion of palm oil plantations, the planting of acacia plantations and illegal trade for tiger parts and products. The Sumatran tiger is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Bali tiger — extinct in the 1930s

Caspian tiger — extinct in the 1970s

Javan tiger — extinct in the 1980s

 

TIGERS IN CRISIS: THE PROBLEMS

In order to live in the wild, tigers need water to drink, animals to hunt, and vegetation in which to hide. As the mountains, jungles, forests, and long grasses that have long been home to tigers disappear, so, too, do tigers.

Agricultural expansion, timber cutting, new roads, human settlement, industrial expansion and hydroelectric dams push tigers into smaller and smaller areas of land.

These forest fragments are surrounded by rapidly growing and relatively poor human populations, including increasing numbers of illegal hunters.

Without wilderness, the wild tiger will not survive.

 

THE LOSS OF HABITAT FOR TIGERS

In order to live in the wild, tigers need water to drink, animals to hunt, and vegetation in which to hide. As the mountains, jungles, forests, and long grasses that have long been home to tigers disappear, so, too, do tigers.

 

Agricultural expansion, timber cutting, new roads, human settlement, industrial expansion and hydroelectric dams push tigers into smaller and smaller areas of land. These forest fragments are surrounded by rapidly growing and relatively poor human populations, including increasing numbers of illegal hunters. Without wilderness, the wild tiger will not survive.

Population

Asia’s explosive population growth demands that more and more land be converted to agriculture. Indonesia, for example, has the same population as the United States, but only ten percent of the land area. Almost all of Indonesia’s lowland forest has been cleared for rice cultivation.

In India, where about 60 per cent of the world’s wild tigers still roam, the human population has grown by 50 percent in the past 20 years. Over the past 40 years, China’s population, the largest in the world, has more than doubled; and 99 per cent of China’s original forest habitat has been destroyed.

Competition

As tigers compete with humans and industry for land, they find less and less to eat. Local people hunt the same prey as tigers do, pressing tigers to resort to domestic animals and, on rarer occasions, even humans. (Tigers are one of only two animals–the other is the polar bear–that are known to stalk humans.)

Threatened villagers often poison, shoot, or snare the encroaching tigers.In addition to food, local communities also need to use the surrounding patches of forest for livestock grazing and wood for fuel.

 

Tiger – Human Conflict

To protect tigers from poachers and the rapidly increasing loss of land, wildlife conservationists have worked with governments to establish wildlife reserves. Reserves are protected areas ranging in size from China’s Xioaling at 21 km2 to Indonesia’s Kerinci Seblat at 14,846 km2.

Most reserves, however, are isolated islands of forest in which the tiger has little chance to survive due to the difficulty of meeting mates, the threat of disease, and genetic drift and in-breeding. Furthermore, these “protected areas” are extremely difficult to protect.

Forestry and wildlife departments are too understaffed and under-budgeted to save the tiger from the intensity of poachers.

Lacking organization, compensation for high-risk work, training, camps inside the protected areas, night patrols, recognition, motivation, and resources such as firearms, vehicles and communication equipment, the guards’ enforcement of anti-hunting laws is limited.

On one hand, communities, particularly rural ones, depend on natural resources for their livelihood and development. On the other hand, viable tiger populations may not survive in the wild beyond the year 2000. The dilemma between wilderness conservation and community development is real and complex.

Some efforts to protect tiger habitat have focused on programs aimed at reducing conflicts between tiger protected-area managers and people living in and around the reserves, although so far, few programs, if any, have been successful.

Political and economic conditions limit their effectiveness, especially given the onslaught of poachers who are killing tigers for the use of their body parts in traditional Chinese medicine.

Habitat protection, when combined with the promotion of alternatives to traditional Chinese remedies and stricter law enforcement, is a vital part of the strategy to save the tiger.

 

THE TRADE IN TIGER PARTS

The single greatest threat of extinction that looms over most Asian wildlife especially the endangered tiger, and pushes them to become endangered species, are the massive demands for traditional medicine.

The annual consumption of traditional remedies made of tiger bone, bear gall bladder, rhinoceros horn, dried geckos and a plethora of other animal parts is of phenomenal proportions. It is believed that today at least 60 per cent of China’s billion-plus inhabitants use medicines of this type.

The booming economies and personal incomes of Southeast Asia have caused demand and prices to soar, lifting the international trade in wildlife products to an estimated $6 billion-a-year business.

Why is there this demand?

The use of tiger parts in Chinese medicine is nothing new, but it has only been in recent years that the increase in the standard of living in southeast Asia has made these remedies available to most people.

It is no wonder then that this newly affluent population has had a great effect on wildlife numbers and the demand for tiger parts. In many places in China, tiger parts are a delicacy that is served at special private banquets.

The use of endangered tiger products and their medicines is seen as a symbol of high status and wealth. Some remedies list tiger parts as an ingredient, but the real animal parts are so expensive that often the medicines may have only trace elements; but even this is enough to promote the continued slaughter of the tiger.

In addition, in recent years there has been a resurgence in traditional practices fundamental to the history of Chinese society. This has been fueled by cultural pride, and a growing sentiment that western medicine contains some shortcomings in treating illness.

Furthermore, new communities around the globe including non-Asian communities, are supplementing traditional Chinese medicine treatments into their western style of medicine, igniting the demand for tiger parts beyond what can be supplied.

 

Who is Using Tiger Parts? Countries and Statistics

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) believes that at least one tiger is killed daily for its use in traditional Chinese medicine.

An increased demand for endangered tiger parts exists throughout the world. China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Great Britain are involved in the tiger trade. One of the biggest markets for endangered tiger parts is Japan where legislation bans trade in endangered species, but does not cover products not readily recognizable, such as wine, pills and powders.

Hong Kong is the main importer of Chinese tiger products, accounting for nearly half of its annual business.

Although they are scarce, trade records indicate the import and export of tiger parts is substantial. The Zoological Society of London believes at least 1,900 kg of tiger bone were exported to Japan from Taiwan in 1990, an equivalent to 400-500 tigers.

According to South Korean immigration statistics, the country imported 3,994 kilograms (8787 pounds) of tiger bones from Indonesia between 1970 and 1993. The bones of one tiger weigh approximately 10 kilograms (22 pounds).

Due to increased demand, tiger bone prices have skyrocketed in South Korea, Taiwan and many other countries. The price is estimated to be between $140-$370 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) in U.S. dollars depending on the size of the bones.

In Taiwan, a bowl of tiger penis soup (to boost virility) goes for $320, and a pair of eyes (to fight epilepsy and malaria) for $170. Powdered tiger humerus bone (for treating ulcers rheumatism and typhoid) brings up to $1,450 lb. in Seoul.

Consuming tiger parts for medicinal purposes is not limited to Asia. A recent World Wildlife Fund investigation in England of Chinese chemists, craft shops and supermarkets in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool showed that half the shops sold products claiming to contain tiger bone.

The rising demand for tiger parts and rapid increase in price of tiger bone continues to be an irresistible incentive to poachers.

 

Who is Supplying the Demand?

Even though China has participated as a member in the Convention on International Trade inEndangered Species, (CITES) since 1981, the laws are widely ignored and it remains the primary destination for Indian tiger parts. In 1995, in India alone, parts from 50 different tigers were discovered. Scientist suggest this number can be multiplied by a factor of five or six to reach the true figure.

Since China has almost eradicated its own tiger population it is now looking for a new supply of tigers from Bangladesh and Nepal. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that one-third of the breeding-age female tigers were lost between 1989 and 1991 in this area.

In Burma, hunting tigers is still legal. Burma, Lao PDR and Cambodia are not signatories to the CITES. Tigers in Vietnam and Malaysia continue to be hunted as well. One can buy tiger bones, skins or organs at Hanoi airport. Regardless of the extent to which the trade is policed, bits of tiger especially blood, eyeballs and genitals appear wherever there is demand.

Russia has also become a key supplier in the tiger trade due to political, economic and social instability. Poaching one tiger can bring in 10 years’ income on the black market. It is estimated that in 1991, one-third of the Siberian or Amur tigers were killed to meet the demand for traditional Chinese medicines elsewhere.

Researchers and scientist believe poaching is alive and well despite many laws prohibiting the hunting and trade of endangered species.

How Much Does Tiger Poaching for Chinese Medicine Affect the Population?

A research project designed to model the effects of tiger poaching in Russia and India by John S. Kenney of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has determined via computer modeling that even a small increase in poaching drastically increases the threat of the endangered tigers’ extinction.

To make the model, the scientists used data collected for over 20 years on the survival rates and behavior of tigers in Nepal’s Royal Chitwan National Park. In addition, they estimated that every normal-sized tiger group worldwide loses 5 to 10 of its 120 or so members to poaching each year. They then used the model to predict effects of different poaching patterns.

The model predicts, If poachers killed 10 of the animals in a tiger group every year for three years, the group would have less than a 20 percent chance of extinction in the 75 years after poaching stopped. Destroying 15 tigers a year for 3 years however, bumps the probability of extinction up to 50 percent. If poachers kill 15 tigers in a group each year for six years, or 10 animals for nine years, this will destroy the group.

If poaching continues at its current rate, researchers have predicted that many if not all the tiger clans will be wiped out in the near future.

Tiger populations can appear stable yet fail to withstand an unexpected disaster, such as bad weather, disease or reproductive problems. Add to this the devastating loses the populations suffer due to poaching and one can see that the challenges the endangered tiger faces will be extremely difficult to overcome in order to survive.

Have Efforts to Curb the Trade in Tiger Parts Worked?

Several Asian nations including China, Nepal, Japan, South Korea and Thailand have endorsed tough protections for tigers in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The measures commit the countries to enact laws banning the trade of tiger derivatives, preserve tiger habitat, and form a regional network to halt tiger trade. But lack of government resolve and corruption at the highest levels have thwarted enforcement of other wildlife agreements that the nations have signed.

The popularity of tiger bones as a remedy for a multitude of ailments has produced a thriving black market, which is very difficult to monitor. Unlike a tiger skin, tiger bones can be crushed and made odorless and can be disguised as other types of bones. Tiger derivatives that are confiscated in raids by government officials are therefore believed to be just the tip of the iceberg.

The trade in tiger body parts is thought to have intensified as a result of a rapid increase in the demand for traditional Chinese medicine in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.

Despite the acceptance of new trade policies in China, it still remains a principle player in the demise of the tiger and other endangered species. Other countries such as Taiwan have stepped up enforcement efforts since coming under pressure from the United States in 1993-1994.

In Taiwan, a recent trade control law has resulted in raids and seizures, prosecutions, extensive searches of Chinese medicine stores, and customs surveillance and coordination with other relevant authorities. Hong Kong has also intensified its enforcement activities, following its 1994 trade control laws.

But, such policing efforts in Asian countries touch only a small percentage of Chinese medicine stores, and often owners get word of a “raid” in time to hide or disperse any tiger parts they may have in stock.

Because the demand for tiger products continues to grow, and poaching is still prominent in India, Russia and southeast Asia additional measures need to implemented to curb both the supply and the demand for endangered tiger parts.

They need our help!