Ten years ago, the numbers of global world tigers hit an all-time low of as few as 3,200. This caused 13 nations to set a goal in that same year to double the population of the world’s wild tigers (Panthera tigris) by 2022. Dubbed as TX2, the global commitment has created a high level of government backing needed to create the platform to immediately reverse the decline of the world’s biggest cat. But are we almost there?
Wild tigers making a “remarkable comeback”
New figures from the wildlife charity WWF suggest that the world’s wild tigers are making a “remarkable comeback,” as experts described via BBC. Although their numbers have been in rapid decline for decades now, the new WWF figures are positive news. Now, five countries, including Bhutan, Russia, Nepal, China, and India, have given hope to achieve the bold Tx2 conservation goal.
In Nepal alone, the population of wild tigers increased from 121 in 2009 to 235 under a decade later. In India, wild tigers are now estimated at between 2,600 and 3,350, making up three-quarters of the global tiger population. The same success story can be observed in China, Bhutan, and Russia, where the increased sightings of wild tigers show that the global conservation efforts are indeed working.
WWF UK regional manager for tigers and Asian species Becci May said that given enough water, food, and space, tigers can thrive happily. She says that the TX2 progress is a result of tigers being better protected as well as their habitat. The reason why the population of wild tigers has declined in the last 100 years is that there have been changes in land use. Poaching, hunting, and loss of habitat remain very real threats to these animals.
May adds that wildlife populations have also been devasted because people use snares (wire nooses) to catch wild animals, including rabbits and squirrels. In a recent analysis, it estimates that about 12.3 million snares threaten the wildlife in protected locations in South Asia.
Key strategies to protect the tigers and their habitat
May, who works closely with the Tigers Alive Initiative and the WWF teams in four tiger landscapes in Russia, China, India, and Nepal, said that protecting the tigers requires a “real team effort.” People from different countries need to share their enthusiasm for tigers and share with their family and friends how important it is. On our part, we can make sure that the things we purchase, such as paper and wood, do not come as a result of illegal logging that also harms the tigers in the wild.
Check the labels of the products you purchase and you will see the source of it. That simple act can help and protect tigers in the forests and their habitats. WWF says, “knowing where your wood comes from is more important than ever.” In the Russian Far East, large-scale illegal logging has threatened the long-term survival of the endangered Amur tiger. As people overharvest trees, it limits the supply of acorns and pine nuts, which are also the main food sources for their prey.
How illegal logging imperils the long-term survival of tigers
Widespread timber theft, mostly to supply Chinese flooring and furniture manufacturers, likewise provides a channel for illegal timber to reach Japan, Europe, and the US. Russian customs data show that the volume of Mongolian oak logged in 2010 for export exceeded the amount that is legally authorized for logging by 200%. Oak harvest in 2007 was also four times as large and all these created a devastating impact on the survival of the Amur tiger.
Companies can do their part in protecting the big cats. Should they need to purchase products made with Russian oak, linden, ash, or elm, companies should purchase exclusive products that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, WWF recommends.
May said that other tigers can learn from Nepal and India, which have witnessed big increases. Nevertheless, tiger conservation will not be successful without political will and the support of the government, she went on. Support and engagement of the local communities who are living in places near where tigers live are also important. This could mean supporting these communities and allowing them to take part in the conservation efforts. It’s a collective effort to turn the tide for the world’s tigers.
The roar is back in India
The number of wild tigers in India has grown by over 30% from 1,1400 in 2006 to 2,967 in 2018. This was based on the census All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi considered it a “historic achievement” and he then reaffirmed India’s commitment to protecting the big cats in the wild.
As per Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), about 74 tigers died in India between January to June 2016. It also provided the year-wise data for poaching cases in India: 2000 (52 tigers killed), 2004 (38), 2006 (37), 2008 (29), 2010 (30), 2012 (32), 2014 (23), and 2015 (25). However, with conservations and better protection measures, it helped the species recuperate. What lies ahead now remains a challenging path.
Global wild tiger status in 2016
In that same year, India is home to 2,226 wild tigers, Russia 433, Indonesia 371, Malaysia 250, Nepal 198, Thailand 189, Bangladesh 1-6, Bhutan 103, China 7, Vietnam 7, and Lao PDR 2. Data is from WWF International and IUCN Rest List of Threatened Species 2016.
In Bhutan, they have recently commemorated International Tiger Day. The South Asian country is known to have a special relationship with the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). As early as the eighth century, people associated the majestic cat with divinities. Now, with more than 72% of the country under forest cover and 51.4% are protected areas, Bhutan has estimated that its 103 tigers spread around the country from subtropical plains to high-altitude alpine meadows.
Tigers are an important part of cultures and ecosystems. If the forests are emptied of the big cat, what will remain will be zoo sightings and distant legends. Aside from monitoring their numbers, the world must also keep an eye on threats to their population. These threats include habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and climate change.
By linking forest preservation and tiger conservation, we can show commitment to promoting a healthy economic and environmental future.