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Bringing Back Tigers

Tiger numbers are increasing globally for the first time in 100 years.

Tiger numbers are increasing globally for the first time in 100 years.

A recent count using IUCN data and national tiger surveys found that at least 3,890 are now likely to exist in the wild—up from an estimated 3,200 in 2010. This number can be attributed to rising tiger populations, improved survey methods, and better protection efforts in some tiger range countries.

  1. 1910

    100,000 tigers

    Poached for parts or pushed out of their increasingly degraded, fragmented habitats by agriculture and human development, wild tigers steadily fell in numbers and range until it was estimated that only 3,200 individuals remained. That was in 2010, the Chinese zodiac’s last Year of the Tiger, and it marked a striking turning point. That year, tiger range countries, WWF and its partners committed to reverse this trend through one ambitious goal: double the numbber of tigers in the wild by 2022.

  1. 2010

    Year of the Tiger: 3,200 tigers

  2. 2016

    3,890 tigers

    2016 marks the critical halfway point of this undertaking, called TX2, and for the first time in more than a century, overall tiger numbers are on the rise.

  3. 2022

    OUR GOAL: Year of the Tiger, 6,000+ tigers

Tigers Today The state of tigers across WWF's 13 priority landscapes

In all tiger range countries, WWF works in carefully chosen sites that are biologically rich and have high potential for tiger recovery. In 9 of WWF’s 13 priority landscapes, we believe wild tiger numbers to be increasing or stable. Sadly, in parts of Southeast Asia, tiger numbers continue to decline.

Increasing
Stabilized
Decreasing
Russia China India

Country By Country Learn how each tiger range country is addressing their piece of the puzzle.

India: 2,226 tigers

©James Warwick / jameswarwick.co.uk

The story of India's tigers is an unlikely one.

Despite the fact that India has one of the world’s largest and fastest growing human populations—with deforestation and other development pressures to match—tigers in India are recovering in some areas. Last year, India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority announced a nearly 30% rise in the national tiger population following its national tiger survey. Yet while India’s tigers have benefited from the country’s ramped up commitment to wildlife protection, poaching, conflict with humans, and habitat loss and fragmentation due to development pressures remain ever-present dangers.

Nepal: 198 tigers

In early 2016, Nepal celebrated four 365-day periods of zero poaching for rhinos since 2011, and long stretches in that period when no tigers or elephants were poached either. Embracing tools from technology to sniffer dogs, Nepal is a leader in finding ways to improve antipoaching efforts and preserve its rich biodiversity.

Sniffer dogs working with park rangers of Nepal © WWF-US/Narendra Shrestha

Sniffer dogs like Sears help track down and deter poachers in Chitwan National Park.

Bangladesh: 106 tigers

Tiger resting in the mangroves ©naturepl.com / Tim Laman / WWF

The Sundarbans bridge India and Bangladesh, and are home to a tiger population uniquely adapted to mangrove forests. But projected sea level rise resulting from climate change—about a foot by 2070—could destroy the last remaining habitat of these cats.

Bhutan: 103 tigers

Waterfall in Eastern Bhutan ©Drew Crandall

In 2015, Bhutan completed its first-ever tiger survey.

Using a combination of camera traps, paw prints (or pugmarks), and spatial monitoring, scientists in Bhutan identified tigers across the country’s diverse landscapes, from higher elevations to subtropical forests.

Cambodia: 0 tigers

Sadly, tigers in Cambodia have been declared functionally extinct. WWF is supporting the Cambodian government’s plans to reintroduce tigers to the Eastern Plains landscape where tigers lived until 2007.

Laos: 2 tigers

Seventy-four percent of rangers—according to the recent Ranger Perceptions: Asia survey—who believe they’re not properly equipped to do their job. Rangers are often the first line of defense against tiger poaching, and in 2014, WWF established The Ranger Federation of Asia to advocate for rangers in all tiger countries, including Laos, to make sure they’re getting the training and equipment they need to effectively protect tigers and other wildlife.

Thailand: 189 tigers

Dawna Tenasserim landscape from the air © Adam Oswell/WWF-Thailand

The Dawna Tenasserim landscape on the Thailand-Myanmar border has a healthy prey base and relatively low human population, and offers one of the best hopes for the survival of tigers—both those that live there and those that could potentially be reintroduced.

Vietnam: <5 tigers

young serow ©Gerald S. Cubitt / WWF

Loss of habitat has affected not only tiger territories, but also the populations of their prey.

Populations of deer, antelope, serow, and wild pigs have also declined in number following decades of intensive hunting and weak law enforcement. Even in countries with few or no tigers, protecting habitats and prey species is a vital step toward restoring tiger numbers.

Myanmar: Unknown

camera trap of a tiger

The porous border between Thailand and Myanmar is a notorious wildlife trafficking site, where the sale of hundreds of tigers and tiger parts on the black market has contributed to a deadly, illegal trade in endangered species. Myanmar is also the only tiger range country without an IUCN estimate for tiger numbers. But in spite of this inconclusive data and illegal trade, there’s hopeful news: Research shows that tigers along the Thailand-Myanmar border are now breeding, and there is evidence that wild tigers are dispersing from Thailand’s eastern border into Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region (image above). Cooperation and effective policies between these two countries will be vital to tigers’ long-term survival in the region.

Indonesia: 371 tigers*

Female Sumatran tiger captured by camera trap ©WWF-Indonesia/Tiger Survey Team

In Sumatra, Indonesia, poaching for trade accounts for over 78% of tiger deaths, or at least 40 animals per year. Human-wildlife conflict is also a serious issue: As human development and agriculture encroach on and destroy tiger habitat, tigers may attack livestock or people, which can result in retaliatory killings by villagers. WWF collaborates with local communities, industries, and governments to prevent and mitigate human-wildlife conflict by improving monitoring and enforcement.

*Census needed

Malaysia: 250 tigers*

Tigers in Malaysia are particularly threatened by poaching, habitat fragmentation and loss caused by infrastructure development, and conversion of forests for commercial agriculture. WWF helps conduct tiger monitoring, engages with local communities to be stewards of tiger conservation, and aids authorities to conduct antipoaching patrols.

*Census needed

China: >7 tigers*

Worth an estimated $10 billion annually, the illegal wildlife trade is one of the world's largest criminal markets.

Despite an international ban on the tiger trade since 1993, demand for illegal tiger parts in countries like China continues to drive the poaching crisis, the biggest immediate threat to the remaining wild tiger population. Tiger “farms” in China feed that demand—and undercut efforts to stop the trade and protect the big cats in the wild. But WWF is advocating for stronger national and international policies against wildlife trade, and researching and addressing consumer behavior. And there is good news: Within the Chinese portion of the Amur-Heilong landscape, the population is slowly gaining ground.

*Census needed

Russia: 433 tigers

Amur tiger caught on a tiger trap ©Vladimir Filonov / WWF-Canon

By the 1940's, Amur tigers had come perilously close to extinction from widespread hunting.

Following decades of concerted conservation and antipoaching efforts by Russia and its partners, including WWF, the Amur tiger population is now the largest contiguous tiger population and has the biggest home range in the world. Still, tigers in the Russian Far East remain at extreme risk from human activities like urban expansion, poaching, and rampant illegal logging of Korean pine and Mongolian oak—critical habitat for the Amur tiger and its prey.

Priority Landscapes Three examples of protected areas that can help restore tiger populations

Terai Arc Landscape

In 2000, WWF worked with the governments of India and Nepal to establish this landscape and protect 11 critical habitat areas. Today, successful reforestation has led to the return of tigers in corridors like Khata, a forest that links Nepal’s Bardia National Park with Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in India.

WWF Nepal project officer showing a photo of a tiger in the Terai Arc Landscape © Gary Van Wyk / The Ginkgo Agency / Whiskas / WWF-UK

Mondulkiri Reserve

Called “the Serengeti of Asia” by some, the Mondulkiri Protected Forest—more than 1,500 square miles of protected area in Cambodia’s Eastern Plains Landscape—contains the kind of grassy, open landscapes that could offer ideal habitat for reintroduced tigers and their prey.

Tiger walking in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest at night © Cambodia WWF/FA

Amur-Heilong Landscape

In addition to pushing for better hunting and logging laws, WWF helps monitor tigers, secure habitat, and increase prey along the Amur-Heilong landscape in Russia and China. New camera trap footage in China shows that Amur tigers are again breeding in places where the tiger population was once decimated by poaching.

Amur tiger sitting in water © Hartmut Jungius / WWF-Canon

While the recent increase in wild tigers is a huge win, the threats haven't gone away.

To make sure overall tiger numbers continue to rise, we must protect forest habitats across Asia and save diverse landscapes. We must also bring poaching and the tiger trade to a halt by providing the support and technology necessary to stop poachers and protect rangers on the ground; by working alongside TRAFFIC to support law enforcement and link global antipoaching efforts; and by assisting governments across all tiger range nations in building strong, tiger-smart policies in favor of forest conservation and against illegal markets.

We must keep our guard up. Otherwise, this incredible species could fall back toward extinction.

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