By Gabriel Fava, Born Free Foundation
Today, the 29th of July, is International Tiger Day (#TigerDay). Does the day represent a cause for celebration, alarm, or both?
Celebrate, by all means – the existence of magnificent creatures like the tiger seems barely credible, and our lives are certainly made richer by their presence in the world. But sadly their uniqueness and majesty makes their continued existence far from assured.
A hundred years ago there were an estimated 100,000 tigers spread across parts of central Asia and from the eastern coast of Russia down through most of east, southeast and south Asia. Since then a catastrophic loss of range and multiple threats have led to a precipitous decline in tiger populations. Now, less than 4,000 remain, predominantly in India. Sadly, despite this well-documented decline and our universal awe of tigers, we continue to persecute them in tourist attractions; breed them in captivity for the wealth generated by their body parts and products; push them out of their habitats by building roads, railways, settlements, mines and dams; encroach on their forest homes with settlements and palm oil plantations; poach their prey; kill them in retaliation for livestock and human deaths; and of course hunt them for the perceived value in their skins, claws, teeth and bones.
Tiger poaching for the illegal trade in tiger parts and products is widely recognised as a primary threat to the species’ future, yet this threat shows no sign of being substantially addressed: between January and March 2016, the highest level of tiger killing in India for 15 years took place, with at least 25 tigers killed. (Read more about this.)
Simultaneously, a key threat to tigers continues to be largely unrecognised. This comes from tiger ‘farms’ and similar facilities in countries such as China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, which keep and breed some 7,000 captive tigers. The skins from these animals are taxidermied and turned into rugs for ‘luxury’ home décor, and their skeletons are soaked in vats of wine to make tiger bone ‘health tonic’. These facilities not only present serious animal welfare problems, but also undermine wild tiger conservation efforts through the increased availability of tiger parts and products, which in turn actively stimulates the demand for their more ‘potent’ and often cheaper counterparts from the wild.
Today, on International Tiger Day, a number of wildlife charities are raising the profile of this threat and asking you to do the same, for a future with tigers.