An Endangered Species: The Tale of the Tiger.

Photo by law_keven | flickr.comWith an estimated global population of a scarce 3,200, wild tigers have become one of the most threatened species on our planet.  This top-of-the-food chain cat has been in existence for the last 5,000 years.  An astonishing 97% decline occurred in the species from a population of over 100,000 only a century ago.

More than likely, you have not been involved in poaching before and will probably agree that we must strive to preserve this iconic Asian mammal before it is lost from our planet forever... Ironically, we are also the root of that cause. The obvious message is that the human population has evolved as the tiger’s single ruthless natural enemy and is responsible for the obscene decline of these admired mammals.

With the current extinction of 3 out of 9 identified subspecies of tigers, the crisis of their decreasing population in Asia, along with all other globally threatened animals, displays humanity’s influence is negatively pressuring biodiversity greater than nature’s ability to sustain it. On that note, nature is not going decide one day to spontaneously fix the global issue of animal endangerment either.

The remaining tiger population thrives in pockets of jungle ecosystems ranging from India throughout eastern Asia up into Russia. The eradication of this predator is a critical issue since removing a top notch carnivore damages the integrity of all natural systems it is involved in, including the control of prey populations and extended detrimental effects on carbon cycles throughout its ecosystem.

The basis of the diminishing species lies in illegal poaching practices and markets selling varieties of endangered species along national boarders across Asia. Poaching is controlled predominantly through organized criminal groups using citizens in rural poverty to drive down the tigers for their extraordinary price tags which offer considerable income. Habitat loss and fragmentation of land encompasses a wide scope of other factors inhibiting the liveable conditions tigers thrive on.

In light of the United Nations’ Year of Biodiversity and Asian Year of the Tiger, I feel that this is a more appropriate time than ever for global leaders to strengthen biodiversity laws ensuring the survival of the tiger.  Recently, heads of government from 13 tiger-range states gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia between November 21st and 24th to raise awareness and assess the potential extinction of the revered animal with the Tiger Summit.

The Tiger Summit was the first high-level conference to ever take place targeted towards the remediation of a single species on the global scale. The aim of the 13 nations was to endorse a Global Tiger Recovery Program geared towards raising the tiger population to 7,000 by 2022. Focal points of the assembly and the goals they’ve agreed to pursue are based on the stabilization and restoration of the tiger, including the following:

  • Establish critical breeding habits between tigers in landscapes with no current economic or commercial infrastructure and refrain from development in these regions
  • Form corridors between these reserves designated for activities compatible with tigers’ lifestyles and biodiversity functions, to expand their territory without conflicting with human expansion
  • Improve protection of tigers with systematic patrolling of the animals themselves, their prey, and their habitats
  • Strengthen regional law enforcement against poaching, smuggling and illegal trade of tiger parts
  • Gain participation from indigenous and local communities to engage in tiger conservation
  • Explore and mobilize funding for conservation projects, and convene high-level meetings on a regular basis to ensure political commitment to recovery of the species

Despite the presence of hundreds of other endangered species, an immense amount of focus is evidently placed towards the tiger.  Why is it that tigers matter so much?

Because 25,000 acres of forest are protected per tiger in the world, homes for a vast number of other animals is preserved simultaneously. The destruction of the species also contributes to fluctuating prey populations, throwing off the balance of energy flow within ecosystems tigers are integrated in. Moreover, tigers are undoubtedly admired by people and pose as a massive tourist attraction, which in effect helps some of the world’s poorest communities thrive off of tourism to the few remaining pockets where the animals exist.

If the cost is one of the figurehead species in the Asian world, in my mind, traditional Asian medicines, decorative floor coverings, and souvenirs are a rather pathetic price to pay for the loss of the revered, majestic wild tiger and the biodiversity that these animals bring with them.