Tigers are among the most iconic wildlife on Earth. But sadly, just 4,000 tigers remain—only three percent of the total 100 years ago. The blame for plummeting tiger populations rests at many feet—from human development eating up their habitat to demand for tiger pelts and other
The fight to save tigers is large and complicated, but it's not lost. There are lots of things we can all do from anywhere in the world to help ease the pressure on tigers and make space to restore their population to historic levels.
End the trade of tiger parts
Despite the imminent threat of their extinction, tiger parts are still coveted around the world for both their aesthetic beauty and medicinal uses. Tiger parts are a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, credited with everything from healing kidney and liver ailments to epilepsy and toothaches. As China's wealth and wealthy class has grown, so too has demand for these medicines.
There are already laws on the books banning the trade in tigers. Tigers have been included in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species' (CITES) ban for decades, and countries that are part of tigers' historic range all have individual laws banning trade. Other countries have taken action too: In 2013, President Obama issued an executive order to improve enforcement of bans on the trade in exotic animals and animal parts.
These laws are a great first step, but to be effective they need to be enforced. You can help by creating a petition asking Congress to increase funding for efforts to halt wildlife trafficking or by signing a petition asking Chinese President Hu Jintao to keep a ban on captive-bred tigers. You can also support organizations working directly with political actors on the ground in China, Russia and other countries that fuel demand for tiger parts to ensure strong enforcement of the ban.
So where are all these tiger hides coming from? After all, tigers are on the U.S. endangered species list, the IUCN Red List of endangered species, protected under CITES and listed. Sadly, much of the stock comes from illegal poaching in otherwise protected areas. Before we admonish poachers for their moral failings, it's important to look at why people poach.
In fact, for many people, it's the best way to support their families. Tigers necessarily roam in rural areas and wilderness, places with few jobs and little economic opportunity. According to Havocscope, a tiger can go for $5,000 dead and up to $50,000 alive. Compare that to the per capita income of around $7,000 in China and $1,500 in India. Tiger bone alone sells for $75-$115 per pound. It's easy to see someone making the choice to poach and support their family. Though poaching is often run by organized gangs, this income potential can draw in the members who do the dirty work.
The key to stopping poaching is providing alternatives. Supporting foreign aid that helps countries meet the needs of their people is a start. You can also provide direct support. One of the most promising industries that may be able to supplant poaching is ecotourism, which requires the preservation—not destruction—of natural resources and wildlife. Already worth hundreds of thousands, experts expect it could grow to a $450 billion industry. Surely, not all of us can afford a trip to Southeast Asia, but for those that do travel, consider an environmentally friendly tour rather than a resort stay.
Protect tiger habitat
One reason tigers are in this mess in the first place is that humans grossly encroached on their natural habitat. Historically tigers roamed all over Asia from parts of Russia and Turkey to India and Indonesia. Today, they've lost an estimated 93 percent of their range and are largely confined to pockets of that range in eastern Russia, India and Southeast Asia. The problem is twofold. The first is obvious: that's just a tiny fraction of the land they once used to occupy. But perhaps worse, their land is fragmented with human settlements in between. Big cats are rangers and need space to roam freely to hunt prey—something that's impossible with towns and cities in between protected lands. The lack of connection also increases the chances for inbreeding and makes poaching easier. That effectively makes tiger habitat less than the sum of its parts.
This won't change without political action. The best thing you can do is turn up the heat on political leaders at home and abroad to voice your support for more protected wildlife refuges. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has worked with governments and local communities to establish wildlife corridors and protected areas. Supporting these campaigns and others with your voice and donation dollars can help tigers win back some of the land they've lost.
Educate people about the tiger’s plight
Tigers live a world away from most people's everyday lives, so it's no wonder their plight isn't top-of-mind like other issues. Their media representation as playthings of the rich (like Mike Tyson in The Hangover) further erodes the public's sense that they're a species on the brink.
That's where you come in. Your petition signatures, donations and consumer choices matter, but all these tools work better when used collectively. Educate your friends, family, neighbors and community about the threats tigers face and how they can help. Share articles on social media, start and ask people to sign petitions, raise funds to symbolically adopt a tiger or organize like-minded folks to call and write their elected officials to ask them to do more to save tigers.
The only battles we're sure to lose are the ones we don't fight. We don't have to allow tigers to go the way of the dodo bird. In fact, thanks to years of efforts, tiger populations are starting to turn around. But there's still a lot of work we can do to protect the animals and their homes so they can be marveled at for generations to come.