International Tiger Day

Tigers are in trouble.  The numbers of this charismatic species have declined by more than 95% in a century.  Whether or not the species can survive remains in doubt.  So, the participants at a tiger conservation summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2010 decided that the tiger needed its own day to raise awareness of the animal’s plight.  Since then, International Tiger Day has been held each July 29. 

            The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the world’s largest cat, with males weighing up to 700 pounds.  Tigers are classified in a single species, but with six genetically distinct subspecies across its large range (taxonomists seem to be squabbling about this).  They are primarily solitary, maintaining large home ranges to provide sufficient prey for an appetite that can consume 80 pounds in one meal.  Tigers live up to 20 years in the wild, becoming reproductively mature in 4-5 years. Females have 2-4 cubs every other year. 

            Before humans started changing things, tigers lived throughout a huge range—in far eastern Russia, throughout southeastern Asia and in Malaysia.  Today, wild tigers inhabit only 7% of that former range, almost all in protected preserves.  About 70% of all wild tigers live in India; the other 30% are scattered among 12 other nations.  A century ago, as many as 100,000 tigers roamed freely, but today the population is about 4,000.  Multiple factors have impacted tigers—trophy harvest, habitat conversion, human-animal conflict, harvest for traditional medicines, and illegal poaching.  Ground tiger bone sells for as much as $115 per pound.  The combination of all these forces has led IUCN to classify the tiger as an “endangered species,” and CITES to place it on its Appendix I (no international trade).

Tigers live in a wide range of habitats across Asia (photo by Gowri Subrananya)

            Conservation efforts have expanded since the 2010 tiger summit.  A goal was set then to double the world population of wild tigers—to 6,000 individuals—by 2022, the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.  The chosen strategy is an integrated habitat conservation program working across nations, organizations and local communities.  The biggest success has come from India, where the government has created 50 tiger reserves and whose tiger population has grown to 3,000.  Because populations in those reserves are growing, which forces some individuals into non-protected lands, the government is also working to create habitat corridors between reserves.  With a total worldwide population of about 4,000 wild tigers in 2020, however, reaching the goal of 6,000 by 2022 seems unlikely.

Tiger in an Indian national park (photo by Charles J. Sharp)

            Conservationists are quick to point out that saving tigers accomplishes so much more than just keeping one species—albeit a beautiful and meaningful one—alive.  Tigers are umbrella species, meaning that protecting their habitat protects a wide range of plants and animals that share their same ecosystem.  Tigers are also top predators, playing an important role in structuring the trophic levels below them.

            But perhaps it is enough to want to save tigers because they are, well, just tigers.

References:

BBC News.  2019.  India tiger census shows rapid population growth.  Available at:  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-49148174.  Accessed April 3, 2020.

IUCN.  2019.  International Tiger Day:  Celebrating an integrated approach for tiger conservation.  Available at:  https://www.iucn.org/news/species/201907/international-tiger-day-celebrating-integrated-approach-tiger-conservation. Accessed April 3, 2020.

IUCN.  Red List – Tiger Panthera tigris.  Available at:  https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/15955/50659951#taxonomy. Accessed April 3, 2020.

US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Tigers.  Available at:  https://www.fws.gov/international/animals/tigers.html. Accessed April 3, 2020.

World Wildlife Fund.  Species—Tiger, Facts.  Available at:  https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/tiger.  Accessed April 3, 2020.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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