Back in April, my colleague Jodi wrote a post about the traditional Chinese calendar’s Year of the Tiger, which the World Wildlife Fund is leveraging to call attention to the desperate plight of Panthera tigris, who’ve become the victims of shrinking habitat and poachers who covet their thick fur and their bones for use in Chinese folk medicine. The beautiful, powerful feline predators once ruled the forests of Asia from Turkey to Vietnam, but their numbers have shrunk from 100,000 in 1990 to just around 3,000 today. In this recent article from the Telegraph, a UK paper, a WWF official warned that we have just about a dozen years to reverse the species’ decline, if we are to save it.
Diane Walkington, head of species at WWF-UK, said: “Without joined-up, global action right now, we are in serious danger of losing the species forever in many parts of Asia.
She went on: “If we lose the tiger, not only do we lose one of the world’s top predators, we will lose so much more. By safeguarding their habitats, we will protect hundreds of other species in the process.”
About 10 still live in the southwestern province of Yunnan, some 15 in Tibet, and 20 or so in northwestern Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, said Xie Yan, China Country Programme Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The South China Tiger is probably already extinct, she told the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Tiger, which starts on Sunday.
“The number of wild tigers left in China is very depressing,” Xie said. “We have less than 50 individuals in the wild. The populations in Tibet and in the south are still dropping.
The northeast tiger is now stable, and maybe increasing a little, but the number is still very small,” she added.
In Russia, only about 250 Siberian tigers remain. Scientific American recently reported that in addition to poaching and shrinking habitat for breeding and hunting, the tigers face an equally scary threat from a mysterious disease that somehow affects their ability to hunt wild game. Left in a hungry, weakened state, the tigers sometimes wander into human-occupied territory in search of easier-to-get food, and are shot as potential threats to humans.
The most recent death was a 10-year-old female named Galya, which had long been tracked and studied by WCS Russia. At her healthiest, Galya was estimated to weigh 140 kilograms. When she was shot, she weighed just 90 kilograms. Galya had recently abandoned her three-week-old cubs, all of whom were found dead with no food in their bodies.