A century ago there were 100,000 tigers roaming the forests, swamps, and tundra of Asia. TODAY, there are as few as 3,200 left in the wild. Only 7% of historic tiger habitat still contains tigers.
At this rate, wild tigers will be extinct in just a few decades.
Consumer demand for tiger parts poses the largest threat to tiger survival. Tigers are being hunted to extinction by poachers for their skins, bones, teeth and claws, which are highly valued for their use in traditional Asian medicine (TAM), various folk remedies and various products. The wildlife trade network, TRAFFIC, found that for the past two years, the smuggled parts from at least 200 tigers have been confiscated per year by law enforcement in Asia. In the past 10 years, over 1000 tigers have been killed to traffic their parts to meet consumer demand in Asia.
Tiger bones have been used in TAM for a wide variety of ailments for more than 1,000 years. In 1993 the Chinese government banned the trade and use of tiger parts, but cultural belief in the power of tiger parts remains.
Parts from a single tiger can fetch as much as $50,000 on the black market, making the poaching of these magnificent creatures very alluring to criminal networks.
Claws, teeth and whiskers are believed to provide good luck and protective powers. And tiger skins and tiger bone wine are valued as status symbols.
Black Market Demand
Uses of tiger body parts in various cultures that is driving the poaching of wild tigers.
Despite the fact that all international commercial trade of tigers has been banned since 1987, some countries allow the breeding of captive tigers on a commercial scale. In many cases, products from these tigers are winding up on the black market, driving demand for tiger products from both wild and farmed sources.
Recently the owners of several large tiger “farms” in China have been pressuring the government to lift the domestic trade ban and allow them to legally produce tiger products, and at least one farm was caught selling tiger bone wine and meat illegally.
Tigers in Captivity in the US
The United States has one of the largest populations of captive tigers in the world − estimated at perhaps 5,000 tigers. They are not just found in zoos and rescue centers; tigers in the U.S. are in private hands and even end up living in backyards. In many jurisdictions, people can legally keep a tiger on their property without reporting it to local officials or neighbors. In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a dog from a local animal shelter.
Rarely can officials determine how many tigers there are in captivity within state borders − or where they are, who owns them, or what happens to their body parts (highly prized on the black market) when they die. Without better regulation, captive tigers become easy targets for black market sales. When those tigers become tiger products it stimulates demand. And the more demand there is, the more wild tigers are poached.
Massive Habitat and Prey Loss
Less than 100 years ago, tigers roamed across most of Asia. Their territory stretched from eastern Turkey to the Russian Far East, extending northward to Siberia and southward into Bali. In a relatively short period of time, humans have caused tigers to disappear from 93% of their former range and destroyed much of their habitat.
Why has this happened? Our world’s forests are being cleared at an alarming rate and replaced by small-farmer and industrial agriculture (for products like palm oil, pulpwood for paper products, and coffee), the timber trade and general development.
- The world’s forests are lost at a rate of as many as 36 football fields a minute.
- In the last 25 years, the island of Sumatra (home to the Sumatran tiger) has lost 50% of its forest cover.
Extensive habitat loss and fragmentation has forced tigers to live in small, isolated pockets of remaining habitat, making it harder for tigers to reproduce. Increased road networks and reduced habitat size also leave tigers more exposed to poachers. The expansion of human activities in tiger habitat has led to overhunting of tiger prey species.
As the human population grows, we are encroaching further into tiger habitat, causing increased competition between tigers and people over living space and food. Local communities surrounding tiger habitats depend on forests for firewood, fodder and timber. As habitats shrink and more people enter the forest, the number of tiger attacks is rising.
Tigers are struggling to find adequate food and often end up hunting domestic livestock that local communities depend on for their livelihoods. When this happens many communities retaliate, SOMETIMES killing the offending tiger or capturing it and sending it to a zoo. Tigers killed as “conflict” animals often end up for sale in the black market.
- CONSUMERS OF TIGER PRODUCTS: A growing and wealthier -mostly Asian – populace that actively purchase tiger products for their purported healing powers and as status symbols.
- POACHERS / CRIME SYNDICATES: The ruthless and well-organized crime syndicates that fuel the poaching of wild tigers and selling of their parts.
- TIGER FARM OPERATORS: The commercial breeders of captive tigers who raise tigers for their parts and who are fueling demand for tiger products.
- GOVERNMENTS: Governments that fail to uphold laws against illegal trafficking of tigers and other species. The governments that lack the resources or political will to create tiger sanctuaries or provide adequate protection of existing parklands from poachers and industry.
- CONSUMERS WORLDWIDE: Everyday citizens who unknowingly purchase a wide variety of paper, timber, palm oil and coffee products provided by corporations who do not use natural resources sustainably.
- CORPORATIONS: Large corporations that are responsible for massive and indiscriminate deforestation of prime tiger habitat.