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For the first time in over 100 years, the global population of wild tigers shows an increase in their population according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Global Tiger Forum (GTF). According to a recent study, the tiger population has grown from 3200 in 2010 to 3890 as of April 2016, which is an increase of 22 percent. While this news is encouraging, it does not mean that the wild tigers are safe from extinction. A little over 100 years ago there were approximately 100,000 tigers worldwide, and now even with the increase in population, that number has dwindled down to less than 4000.
We refer to these big cats collectively as tigers, but these cats are broken down into six sub-species within the family of tigers.
1. Sumatran Tigers: These cats are only found on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, and they are the smallest of the tiger species. It is estimated that only 400 of these tigers still exist, and they are classified as critically endangered.
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2. Amur Tigers: These cats are mainly found in Russia, and sometimes referred to as Siberian Tigers. The areas most populated by these cats are the ikhote-Alin range in the Primorski and Khabarovsk provinces of the Russian Far East. There have also been sitings along border areas of China and North Korea. There are approximately 540 of these cats left in the wild, and they are on the critically endangered list.
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3. Bengal Tigers: This is the largest population of all tiger species. Most of these cats reside in India, but they can also be found in China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. India has dramatically increased their tiger population in recent years due to stronger conservation efforts. In 2011, they had 1,706 tigers and now in 2016 they are up to 2,226. However, poachers are still a threat to these majestic cats, and they remain on the endangered list.
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4. Indochinese Tigers: These tigers exist but in very low numbers. It is estimated that only 250-300 still live in the wild. Their natural habitat is Thailand, Laos, Central Vietnam, and Myanmar. These cats are considered critically endangered.
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5. South China Tiger: At one time in the 1950’s there were over 4000 of these tigers in China, but thanks to the hunting of these animals their numbers decreased to under 100. The Chinese government banned hunting of these cats in 1979, but it seems to have been too little, too late. This species of tiger has not been seen anywhere in the wild in the last 25 years, so it is considered to be functionally extinct. Fortunately, there are still some living specimens in zoos around the world.
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6. Malayan Tigers: These cats are native to the Malay Peninsula and in the southern tip of Thailand. They are considered critically endangered with an estimated population between 250 and 340.
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Today all these tiger species are endangered or critically endangered due to climate change, loss of habitat, and poaching. The changing climate has affected the tiger’s population because the tiger’s natural habitats cannot adjust to changing weather quick enough, so there is less viable land for these big cats.
The other problem, which for some tigers is even more threatening than climate change, is the destruction of their natural hunting grounds. For example, Indonesia has been clearing away their tropical rain forests in Sumatra at an alarming rate so they can plant palm plantations for the sale of palm oil. This practice has just about wiped out the Sumatran Tigers in this area because is the only place where they live and hunt.
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[source url=”https://www.zsl.org/sites/default/files/image/2014-02/Sumatran-tiger-Sembilang2.jpg” source=”ZSl.org”]
Lastly, the other main reason tigers are endangered is due to poachers. There is still huge demand on the black market for tiger skins, fur, teeth, and their bones are used in Chinese medicines.
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Poaching has long been a major concern, but in recent years poaching tigers has become very lucrative. A poacher can earn up to 10 years of their normal salary from the selling off of parts from one tiger on the black market.
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However, thanks to conservation groups like the WWF tigers have finally seen an increase in their population.
Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at WWF said, “This is a pivotal step in the recovery of one of the world’s most endangered and iconic species. Together with governments, local communities, philanthropists, and other NGOs (non-governmental organizations), we’ve begun to reverse the trend in the century-long decline of tigers. But much more work and investment is needed if we are to reach our goal of doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022.”
If you would like to learn more about these majestic creatures or help the WWF with their conservation efforts in continuing to bring these cats back from the brink of extinction, please visit their website at: http://www.worldwildlife.org