Why are the tigers almost extinct?


Marte Finnvik Solli


About the tigers:

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest of all cats. They are excellent predators, and can eat up to 40kg meat at one time.

They are solitary animals, and they mark their territories with their scent and with clawmarking trees.

The only contact adult tigers have with each other is when they mate.

The tiger’s habitat used to reach from eastern Turkey to North Korea in west, northward to Siberia and southward to Bali. Now they only have small islets of forest to live in over these territories.

For the last hundred years the tiger population has gone from about 100,000 to about 4000-7500 individuals (a number that for many reasons is very difficult to estimate), a total decrease of about 95%!

Out of 8 subspecies, 3 have become extinct during the last century. These were the Bali, Javan and Caspian, and now only the Siberian (Amur), the Bengal, the Indochinese, the South China and the Sumatran tigers are left.


The main reasons for tiger endangerment are:

-         Habitat loss

-         Poaching

-         Population fragmentation


Habitat loss:

Due to a constant increase in the human population, more and more forests have been cut down for timber or conversion to agriculture. This result in a decrease of animals which tigers prey on, and therefore a decrease in the tiger population.   Another bi-effect is that for surviving some tigers start eating the livestock of villagers who live near them. These tigers are often killed by the local people.



In eastern Asia it has been believed for centuries that tiger-parts have special healing-powers. This has resulted in many tiger-killings trough out the years.

The tiger parts (virtually the whole body) are sold at a very high price on the black market, so even though it is illegal to kill tigers, they are still being poached.

Next to no data on tiger products in pharmacies and markets exists, therefore it is impossible to determine how large the demand for these products is. Chinese authorities have disclosed that, in 1991, exports of tiger bone medicines included 15079 cartons of tablets, 5250kg of liquid medicines, and 31500 bottles of wine. Eastern Asia is believed to be the final destination for most of this, but tiger-based medicines have also been found in other parts of the world where there are Chinese communities. (http://pudang.tripod.com)

The bans on these trades have until recently been almost non-existing, and in many countries they are still not very efficient. In some places poachers and dealers who are caught are released on bail and re-offend.  

In many forests there also are too few wild-life guards, if any. This result in big difficulties catching the poachers.

The impact of the poaching is bigger than the loss of the killed animal.

If the killed animal is a female, she may be pregnant or having cubs. These cubs are probably helpless on their own, and the real number of tigers lost may be 3-4. The female tiger also have a breeding potential that should be accounted for in this calculation.

 If the killed animal is a male, other bi-effects occur. These may be that other males fight to take over the dead tiger’s territory. After this, cubs often get killed so that the new male ensures that his own genetic material is spread, and breeding is disrupted for a long period.


Population fragmentation:

This is another problem created by habitat loss. Groups of tigers become separated from each other by villagers and farms as human populations move farther into the forests. This results in inbreeding because the tigers only can mate with the tigers in their separated group. The genetical variety is lost, and tigers are born with birth defects and mutations.


What can be done?

Many groups and corporations, and none the least civil people, are now aware of how endangered the tigers are, and stand together to help saving them.

The main goals are to stop the poaching, and ensure that the tigers still will have habitats to live in.

To make this come through, it is extremely important to have the local authorities and communities on the tiger’s side. Without strong local leadership, most of the western contributions of capital and scientific expertise will only have short-term effects.

As examples of this are two of the WWF`s tiger conservation projects:

Lower Mekong Forest.

(….) WWF is working to get a better understanding of the tiger population remaining, reduce poaching of tigers and other animals, prevent and reduce habitat fragmentation, train local authorities in wildlife law enforcement and habitat protection, and involve local communities in resource protection.” “Nepal/India.

(……) Currently the tiger population in the Terai is estimated 259-269 tigers. The key threats that WWF is addressing include poaching of tigers and their prey, encroachment and fragmentation of habitat, human-wildlife conflict, and lack of training for national park staff”


WWF works together with, among others, the “Save The Tiger Fund”, which also has as a main goal to work together with communities which live around tiger habitats, and to make these co-operators in tiger conservation.

         To prevent more poaching of the tigers, it is important to stop the illegal trade in tiger products. If there was no market for these products, there would be no reason to kill a tiger for its body.

“ In 1994, member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) took unprecedented action, agreeing unanimously to work to halt the international illegal trade in tiger parts and urging tiger-range countries to prohibit domestic trade as well. Together with some CITIES member nations, WWF has begun to work with traditional Asian medicine communities to develop strategies for eliminating the use of tiger parts or derivatives, including the active promotion of natural medicinal alternatives endorsed by the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In addition, TRAFFIC- the wildlife trade-monitoring program of WWF and IUCN- continues to work with governments to identify key trade routes and traders, and to help stop this illegal commerce.” (www.worldwildlife.org/tigers/)


The tiger’s future is uncertain, but with the help of these groups and foundations, and ofcourse the people around the world, and none the least the local communities and authorities where the tigers live, they still have a chance for survival. We can only hope that the saving-process started early enough, and that it proceeds fast enough to save them.