With an estimated 3,500 or fewer individuals remaining, the tiger is endangered in the wild (www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/15955/0). Habitat loss and poaching are considered the main threats to the tiger’s long-term survival. Reduction of prey populations and human-tiger conflict also contribute to the tiger’s endangerment. As a result of these threats, it has been estimated that tigers now occur in only 7% of their historical range1.
It has been estimated that the tiger’s range has decreased by more than 40% within the last decade2. Tigers exist at low population densities and require vast stretches of forest and abundant prey animals such as wild deer and pig. Loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation in tiger range areas is a significant and direct threat to the tiger’s survival in the wild. Major causes of habitat loss and fragmentation include logging, conversion of forests to agricultural areas, resource extraction, and human settlement.
Poaching of tigers for the illegal trade in tiger bones, skins, and other body parts is also a major threat to the tiger’s survival. Though commercial poaching occurs in all countries with wild tigers, high levels of poaching have recently been reported in India, Indonesia, and Myanmar3. Substantial domestic markets for tiger products have been found in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Viet Nam 3, 4. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) makes international trade in tiger parts illegal, but substantial cross-border smuggling of tiger parts still occurs 3, 5. Some have argued that tiger farming could alleviate poaching pressure 6, 7, but numerous conservation biologists have argued that it could have the opposite effect 1, 5, 8.
Prey depletion, through habitat loss and/or over-hunting, can also have important consequences for tiger populations. Large ungulates are typically tigers’ main prey species and it has been estimated that a single tiger may kill 50 of these animals per year for food. Maintaining adequate prey bases, including reducing threats to prey species, is important for sustaining viable tiger populations, particularly in small reserves 9, 10.
Tigers and humans have a long history of conflict. Solitary hunters, tigers have killed countless numbers of livestock and people. Recent attacks on humans have been largely occurred in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Human-tiger conflict tends to reduce support for tiger conservation measures in communities neighboring tiger habitat, and human retaliation for tiger attacks has killed countless numbers of wild tigers. Understanding and managing human-tiger conflict through compensation programs, improved livestock management, land zoning, and management of “problem” tigers, is an important component of tiger conservation efforts 11, 12.
Tiger conservation strategies
Considerable debate exists about the best way to use limited funding to ward off the extinction of tigers. Should conservationists focus their immediate efforts on a limited number of relatively small tiger “source” sites that can feasibly be protected or instead expand their horizons toward creating and preserving vast “tiger landscapes” that preserve connectivity among tiger populations and enough habitat to support expanding populations of tigers? Or is the solution some combination of both of these strategies?
Tiger source sites are high-tiger-density areas that have the potential to repopulate larger landscapes if adequately protected 13. Proponents of this solution argue that focusing protection, management, and monitoring efforts on small to medium-sized areas will be more effective and feasible, particularly given limited funding. Once source sites are successfully protected, efforts can be expanded toward broader landscapes and corridors.
Others are concerned, however, that the broader landscapes and corridors that tigers need to survive, long-term, may be lost while narrowly focusing conservation efforts on source sites 14. They argue that creating and preserving large, connected “tiger landscapes” is the only way to preserve tiger behavior, ecology, and genetics. Preserving these larger landscapes may also be the only way to accommodate a doubling of the wild tiger population – the pledge endorsed by 13 tiger range states as part of the St. Petersburg Declaration in November 2010.
1 Dinerstein, E. et al. 2007. The fate of wild tigers. Bioscience 57: 508-514. www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1641/B570608
2 Sanderson, E. et al. 2006. Setting Priorities for the Conservation and Recovery of Wild Tigers: 2005–2015. The Technical Assessment. WCS, WWF, Smithsonian, and NFWF-STF, New York – Washington, D.C. http://www.savethetigerfund.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Full_Reports
3 Nowell, K. 2007. Asian big cat conservation and trade control in selected range States: evaluating implementation and effectiveness of CITES Recommendations. TRAFFIC International, Cambrudge, UK. http://www.felidae.org/KNOWELLPUBL/abc_report.pdf
4 Tilson, R. et al. 2010. Poaching and poisoning of tigers in Sumatra for the domestic market. In: Tigers of the World: The Science, Politics, and Conservation of Panthera tigris (R. Tilson and P. Nyhus, eds.). Pp. 101-112. Elsevier. www.elsevier.com/wps/find/bookdescription.cws_home/715808/description
5 Nowell, K. 2010. Tiger farms and pharmacies: the central importance of China’s trade policy for tiger conservation. In: Tigers of the World: The Science, Politics, and Conservation of Panthera tigris (R. Tilson and P. Nyhus, eds.). Pp. 463-475. Elsevier. www.elsevier.com/wps/find/bookdescription.cws_home/715808/description
6 Jiang , Z. et al. 2007. Captive-bred tigers and the fate of wild tigers. Bioscience 57:725. http://legacy.ucpress.net/doi/pdf/10.1641/B570922
7 ‘t Sas-Rolfes, M. and Conrad, K. 2010. Making sense of the tiger farming debate. www.tiger-economics.com
8 Kirkpatrick, R.C. and Emerton, L. 2010. Killing tigers to save them: fallacies of the farming argument. Conservation Biology 24: 655-659. www.globaltigerinitiative.org/download/ELF/session-papers-and-presentations/Kirkpatrick_2010_Killing-Tigers-to-Save-Them_Conservation-Biology.pdf
9 Karanth, K.U. 1999. Prey depletion as a critical determinant of tiger population viability. In: Riding the Tiger: Tiger Conservation in Human-Dominated Landscapes. Pp. 100-113. Cambridge University Press. www.savethetigerfund.org/Content/NavigationMenu2/Learn/LessonsinConservation/RidingTheTigerBook/default.htm
10 Karanth, K.U. et al. 2004. Tigers and their prey: predicting carnivore densities from prey abundance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101: 4854-4858. www.pnas.org/content/101/14/4854.full.pdf
11 Nyhus, P.J. and Tilson, R. 2010. Panthera tigris vs Homo sapiens: conflicto, coexistence, or extinction. In: Tigers of the World: The Science, Politics, and Conservation of Panthera tigris (R. Tilson and P. Nyhus, eds.). Pp. 125-141. Elsevier. www.elsevier.com/wps/find/bookdescription.cws_home/715808/description
12 Goodrich, J.M. 2010. Human–tiger conflict: A review and call for comprehensive plans. Integrative Zoology 5: 300-312. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-4877.2010.00218.x/abstract
13 Walston, J. et al. 2010. Bringing the tiger back from the brink – the six percent solution. PLoS Biology 8: e1000485. http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1000485
14 Wikramanayake, E. et al. 2011. A landscape-based conservation strategy to double the wild tiger population. Conservation Letters. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00162.x/full
Working to save tigers
Numerous organizations around the world are working to protect and grow the remaining wild tiger populations. We encourage you to read more about the work they are doing. Here are some examples:
Tigers, all subspecies:
South China tigers: