Dear EarthTalk: How are wild tiger populations faring today around the world? – P.K. via email
Wild tigers have been roaming the planet for upwards of a million years—about 600,000 years longer than humans. Tigers can be found across East and South Asia, with most of them lurking in the rainforests of India, Thailand and Nepal. But don’t expect to see one anytime soon, as their numbers plummeted during the 20th century from 100,000 worldwide to just 4,500. Hunting has been the main cause of their demise, but threats like habitat loss and global warming could push them to extinction if we don’t act fast.
Also, demand across Asia for tiger parts—traditional medicine practitioners make use of tiger bones, eyes, whiskers and teeth to treat a wide range of ailments regardless of medical effectiveness—has led to an uptick in recent years of so-called “tiger farming” whereby wildlife poachers capture wild tigers and imprison them to breed. The non-profit WWF reports that over 8,000 tigers (almost double the number living in the wild) are imprisoned in tiger “farms” across East and Southeast Asia.
Climate change is also a big threat. Rising sea levels are threatening the mangrove forests where the Bengal tigers of the Sundarban regions of India and Bangladesh reside. WWF projects that habitat loss could completely decimate the Sundarbans given the sea level rise predicted for the region by 2070.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. According to ShareAmerica, tigers have begun to rebound slightly in recent years. The increase can be attributed to the reduction of conflicts over space between humans and tigers and education on the fragile status of these precious creatures (Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry has trained over 1,200 community members in reducing conflicts between humans and tigers). The 2021 END Wildlife Trafficking Strategic Review states that since 2015, no tigers have been killed over landscape conflicts. Additionally, Nepal, a natural habitat for tigers, saw their 121 tigers back in 2009 skyrocket to around 355. In nearby India, new research has laid the blueprint for conservation and human development to coexist. Dr. Stotra Chakrabarti with Macalester College emphasized “land-sharing,” in which humans and nature both occupy shared areas. Chakrabarti offers a solution to government officials that finds the Goldilocks zone when considering biodiversity and human growth.
Just because you don’t live near wild tigers doesn’t mean you can’t help in their revival. Refuse to purchase illegally harvested tiger products. And if you do reside in an area with wild tigers, support their protection by voting for legislation prioritizing the safety and increase of their population. Tigers have been decimated by human activity over the years, but we can take actions now to assist in their miraculous upswing. Let’s all do our part to save our endangered friends.
CONTACTS: Tiger populations are on the rise, share.america.gov/tiger-populations-are-on-the-rise/; Nepal Successfully Doubles Their Wild Tiger Population, tigers.panda.org/news_and_stories/stories/nepal_successfully_doubles_their_wild_tiger_population/; New research offers roadmap for wildlife conservation and human development to coexist, www.macalester.edu/news/2023/02/new-research-offers-roadmap-for-wildlife-conservation-and-human-development-to-coexist/.
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