3000 tigers left in the wild and numbers are still dropping. South China tiger is number one on the threatened species list, or is it extinct in the wild?
There are four different main species of tiger and six remaining sub-species in existence at the current time, but wildlife experts say that these will disappear in the next couple of decades. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are less than three thousand tigers left in the wild.
These fabulous creatures have long been prized for their beautiful coats and seen as dangerous predators. They are protected species but the lure of big money for tiger skins and bones far out weighs their concerns about the consequences of being caught poaching tigers. The destruction of their habitat and the inbreeding which occurs where numbers are low is gradually leading to the extinction of these creatures.
Tigers grow up to around twelve feet, or three and a half meters long and can weight as much as seven hundred pounds (three hundred and forty kilograms). Their coats are quite distinctive with white, orange and brown vertical stripes.
In general tigers are very adaptable creatures and they were once found anywhere from Siberia to the savannah grasslands and even in hot and humid mangrove swamps. Tigers are solitary creatures and are extremely territorial which is essential if they are to protect their ‘right’ to prey in an area. These predators have been squeezed out of their natural environment into areas that are quite heavily populated. Inevitably, they have been seen as a serious threat by humans and killed. This has added to the rapid decline in tiger numbers in the last few years.
Royal Bengal Tiger
The Royal Bengal tiger is found in India and Bangladesh and it is the most common sub-species of tiger. Unfortunately, this is an area of the world where tigers have frequently come into conflict with humans and they are still being killed by villagers, despite laws to protect them. Efforts are being made to protect the tigers but at least one tiger reserve has had its entire tiger population wiped out by poachers.
Corbett’s Tiger (The Indochinese tiger) is slightly smaller than the Bengal tiger and is found in decreasing numbers in China,Thailand, Vietnam,Burma and Laos. It is estimated that only a few hundred of this sub-species are left in the wild. Numbers are decreasing fast because there is little prey left for them except domestic goats and cattle which inevitably brings them into conflict with humans. In Vietnam tigers are illegally killed to stock the shelves of Chinese pharmacies where the tiger penis is said to effective in improving virility, and ground tiger bones have been used to treat pain in bones, tendons and muscles, for more than 1500 years. In 1993 the Chinese government banned medicine containing tiger bones to help protect the tiger but illegal trading still goes on.
The Malayan tiger is found only in the south of the Malay peninsula. Until 2004 this sub-species was not recognized as such. It was thought to be the same as the Indochinese tiger, but a US genetic study found that the Malayan tiger is smaller and that there are only about 600 of these creatures left in the wild.
Sumatran tigers are found on the island of Sumatra, in Indonesia. This is the only place in the world where this sub-species of tiger exists and it is critically endangered as a species. Their numbers at the last count were less than 400, but there is evidence that the Sumatran tiger is evolving into a separate, smaller species and much has been done to provide national park areas to protect the tigers. However, there were 88 known illegal tiger killings in a two year period, which is a reduction of about twenty percent of the total population.
The Siberian tiger used to be found in northern China and Russia but it is now restricted to the far eastern corner of Siberia. It is protected in this area and the 2005 tiger count estimated around 450. A second group of Siberian tigers which was once considered to be a different sub-species became extinct during the late 1950’s mostly because of human activity.
South China tiger
South China tigers are listed among the ten most endangered animals in the world. In 1997 the Chinese government banned the killing of wild tigers and there have been no genuine reported sightings in the wild since then. This may well be yet another case of ‘too little too late’ as there are only 59 South China tigers living in captivity as far as is known, and the wild population may already be extinct.
So, the tiger in all its majesty joins the ranks of other endangered species like koala bears in Australia, the sloth in the Brazilian rain forests, the black rhino, hawksbill turtle and giant panda. The list goes on and, unfortunately, so does the human intervention that is killing these creatures off.
(All photographs reproduced under Creative Commons license.)