When you think of tigers, what thoughts flood into your mind? Maybe thoughts of power…grace…beauty… elegance? Surely, in your heart and mind there are feelings of immense respect for the largest of Earths cats. But, for all the positive and powerful emotions that tigers evoke in all of us, across cultures, we continue to drive them into extinction, tainting our morality and casting a dark shadow across our future.
If we give ourselves time to learn more about the intimate lives of tigers, even more wonderful emotions will flood through us. Tiger cubs are born blind and helpless. Tiger mothers are tender and powerful agents for their survival. Mothers rear their cubs in caves and rack crevices or dense thickets, keeping them warm, safe, and fed while defending them from predators and the elements. Few predators are willing to challenge the ferocity of a mother tigress. Just like your mother cared tenderly for you, worried for your health and safety, so does a tiger mother for her babies.
As recently as 100 years ago, more than 100,000 wild tigers roamed our beautiful planet. Wild and free, they play a critical role as an apex predator in keeping their habitats healthy by keeping their herbivorous prey populations healthy and balanced. The life of a tiger is complex and fascinating whether they are patrolling their home range, mating and bearing beautiful cubs, or teaching those cubs survival skills. Throughout human history they have graced our cultures the world over with the beautiful power of wilderness, inspiring human folklore, art and culture.
Today, less than 3,200 wild tigers remain, occupying just 7% of their original range. There are nine subspecies of tiger, three of which (Bali, Caspian, and Javan) we have already forced into extinction in the past 100 years and one, the South China tiger, is believed to be extinct in the wild.
What are the Three Main Threats to Tigers?
- Wild tigers are hunted to meet the demands of the illegal wildlife trade market. Also, due to human encroachment on their habitat, if tigers come close to livestock, local people take retaliatory measures to protect themselves and their livestock.
- Tiger habitat is being destroyed due to land conversion for agriculture and human population growth. As well, their habitat is being fragmented, leaving only isolated areas that are not sufficient for their long-term survival.
- Tiger prey, like deer and wild pigs, have been overhunted by people either for food or for sale on the black market. Lack of wild prey increases the chance of tigers eating livestock, which in turn fuels human-tiger conflicts.
Tiger Farms are Not the Solution
Some people think that farming tigers in captivity is a way to help wild tigers. They feel that people will continue to be greedy and want tiger parts, therefore farming them in captivity is a way to supply the demand and not take tigers from the wild. This line of thinking has been proven wrong time and again. Uneducated people still demand tiger parts and want to believe in their powers. However, they also believe that wild tiger parts are most helpful. By having captive tiger parts available this drives demand. It also makes it much easier for poachers to lie about the source of their tiger products if they are caught, stating that the products are from captive tigers and not wild. Education is critical for protecting tigers from humans.
Most critically, tiger farms are cruel and inhumane and debase core human values of morality and compassion. In recent years, many tiger farms have elicited public outcry for their cruelty.
Another Threat: Lack of Respect
Many places in the world will allow tourists to pose with a tiger to have their photograph taken. Luckily, many people care deeply about animals and can see that the animals are abused and choose not to participate. However, more education needs to be shared about what happens to these animals. In the case of baby animals, the only reason tourists can hold them is because they have been taken away from their mothers. This causes severe anguish and creates immense emotional and behavioral problems for both the babies and their mothers. This also disrupts normal mothering behavior and social development of the babies. Know that any organization you visit that allows the holding of baby animals and then claims to be befitting conservation is lying to you.
In the case of adult individuals such as the one shown here, they must be chained and drugged, otherwise they would defend themselves from the cruelty and likely harm the ill-educated tourists. The drugs are very harmful to the animals and often the human “caretakers” must stand guard with brutal iron poles to strike the animals into submission just for the sake of human entertainment. How have humans become so terrible?
These types of tourist attractions tell the world that it is okay to use animals purely for our entertainment, that they are not worthy of respect and a healthy life. These experiences scream to children that cruelty is okay and normal. We are stunting our children’s social-emotional development when we allow such things to happen in our countries.
China declared its resolve to help double the world’s wild tiger population by 2022 with tighter controls on illegal trading and poaching of tigers and tiger parts. Sadly, the market is still driven by many black marketeers and tiger farms which allow for easy falsification of sales, unenforced laws, and an uneducated public.
The only way to truly combat the poaching of tigers and save the tiger from extinction is to ban the use of all tiger products and increase education about how to protect tigers from imminent extinction.
In the United States, it is estimated there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild globally. We must encourage the U.S and China to ban the import and the export of tiger products. Will there be any wild tigers for the next “Year of the Tiger”?