Tiger - Photo by Kristof Borkowski

Wild tigers have been driven to the brink of extinction by habitat loss, poaching and trade for their body parts. To those who ingest them, ground bones, dried organs, and other tiger parts are believed to impart strength, virility and other curative powers, and the illicit tiger trade flourishes despite a global commercial trade ban. With tiger parts worth many tens of thousands of dollars, tigers are hunted and killed by slow-acting poisons, rifle, leghold traps and wire snares. They are also killed as a means of predator control, as in some areas they are believed to threaten human settlements and livestock.

Recent history tells us that without effective conservation measures, the tiger will vanish. The Javan Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) was given legal protection and habitat reserves in the 1920s and 1930s, yet it was still poached to extinction, with the last Javan Tiger seen in 1976.

Since the 1970s, tigers have experienced precipitous declines throughout their remaining Asian range, with a 40% decline in numbers over the past decade alone. The decline is mainly due to habitat loss, poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and human/tiger conflicts. Three subspecies have already disappeared, and the remaining six face uncertain futures.

Wild tigers number approximately 3,200 in the wild (from an estimated 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century) with a further 9,000 or so held in captivity—most in the US and China. Tiger parts and products are still traded on the black market across the world, but particularly in Asia and among Asian communities elsewhere, despite domestic trade bans and CITES Appendix I listing status. Breeding tigers in captivity does not help wild populations, and may in fact promote demand for tigers and their parts. This in turn would hasten the decline of wild tigers, who are valued more highly than their captive cousins and are therefore attractive to poachers.

In an effort to stem the rate at which wild tigers are disappearing, in November, 2010, governments of the remaining tiger range states—which include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russian, Thailand, and Vietnam—met in St. Petersburg, Russia, and agreed to work together on a Global Tiger Recovery Program aimed at doubling tiger numbers by 2022.