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International Tiger Day: Why The Big Cat Is Not Burning Bright Anymore
Feted for their bones and skin, tigers are fighting for survival in several countries across Asia. India, however, has shown progress in tiger conservation
The majestic creature isn’t burning bright. From a lakh a century ago, the tiger population is down to just about 3,900. Listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), tigers are fighting for survival, literally. The International Tiger Day strives to make people more aware about tiger conservation. Here is a primer on why tiger conservation is important and where India stands:
1. Tigers or Panthera tigris weigh anywhere between 220-660 pounds (100 to 300 kg approximately) and can consume 80 pounds of meat (around 36 kg) in one go. Barring the mother-offspring association, tigers prefer a solitary lifestyle and usually hunt alone. They depend on sight and sound rather than smell for hunting. By the age of 2, tigers are on their own and can survive up to 20 years in the wild.
2. According to the IUCN, there are two subspecies of tiger—the continental tiger and the Sunda island tiger. The continental tiger is largely found in Asia and includes the Bengal, the Malayan, the Indochinese and the Amur tiger. The Sunda tiger is a critically endangered species with a population of less than 400. Named after the Sunda islands in Indonesia, these tigers have become extinct in Java and Bali and can now only be found in Sumatra. They are characterized by heavy black stripes on their orange coat.
3. In the forest food chain, tigers are at the top and key to proper functioning of the ecosystem—tigers prey on ungulates like deer and wild cattle, thereby keeping their numbers in check. By protecting one tiger, you protect around 25,000 acres of forest area, says the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
According to a WWF estimate, 7,000-8,000 tigers are reportedly held in tiger farms across East and Southeast Asia, especially in China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
4. Extinction of tigers can adversely affect the ecosystem just like extinction of Dodos in Mauritius did where a species of Acacia tree stopped regenerating. Saving a tiger habitat also helps other threatened species like Asian elephants, Asiatic black bear and greater one-horned rhino that are part of the same habitat.
5. The majestic beast has fallen prey to poaching and trafficking over the last several decades. Tigers are usually killed for their bones and skin, which can fetch millions of dollars in the international illegal trade circuit. Despite several countries putting laws in place to check trafficking, illegal trade of tiger bones and pelt has continued. Tiger conservationists and wildlife activists have raised alarm over the proliferation of tiger farms in many countries.
6. According to a WWF estimate, 7,000-8,000 tigers are reportedly held in tiger farms across East and Southeast Asia, especially in China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. In contrast, just about 3,900 tigers are in the wild. “The movement (or leakage) of tiger products from such facilities to consumer markets, be it through legal or illegal means, complicates and this undermines enforcement efforts aimed at distinguishing and stopping the trade in wild tiger products,” says the WWF.
7. In India, Project Tiger, a tiger conservation programme, was launched in 1973. From nine tiger reserves in the initial years, India now has 50 tiger reserves across 18 states. According to the ‘Status of Tigers, Co-predators & Prey in India’ 2018 report, which was released on the eve of the International Tiger Day, Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand is home to 231 tigers, highest in the country, up from 137 in 2006. India’s tiger population stands at 2,967, which is more than 70 per cent of the global tiger count.