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Tiger

Facts

After a century of decline, overall wild tiger numbers are on the rise. Around 3,900 tigers remain in the wild, but much more work is needed to protect this species if we are to secure its future in the wild. In some areas, including much of Southeast Asia, tigers are still in crisis and still declining in number.

  • Status
    Endangered
  • Population
    Around 3,900
  • Scientific Name
    Panthera tigris
  • Weight
    220–660 pounds
  • Length
    6–10 feet
  • Habitats
    Tropical rainforests, evergreen forests, temperate forests, mangrove swamps, grasslands and savannas

Map data provided by IUCN

The largest of all the Asian big cats, tigers rely primarily on sight and sound rather than smell for hunting. They typically hunt alone and stalk prey. A tiger can consume up to 88 pounds of meat at one time. On average, tigers give birth to two to four cubs every two years. If all the cubs in one litter die, a second litter may be produced within five months.

Tigers generally gain independence at two years of age and attain sexual maturity at age three or four for females and at four or five years for males. Juvenile mortality is high, however—about half of all cubs do not survive more than two years. Tigers have been known to reach up to 20 years of age in the wild.

Males may weigh up to 660 pounds and are heavier than females. 

Tigers are mostly solitary, apart from associations between mother and offspring. Individual tigers have a large territory, and the size is determined mostly by the availability of prey. Individuals mark their domain with urine, feces, rakes, scrapes, and vocalizing.

Across their range, tigers face unrelenting pressures from poaching, retaliatory killings, and habitat loss. They are forced to compete for space with dense and often growing human populations.

All remaining island tigers are found only in Sumatra, with tigers in Java and Bali now extinct. These are popularly known as Sumatran tigers. The continental tigers currently comprise of the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese, and Amur tiger populations, while the Caspian and South China populations are extinct in the wild.

Turtles, tigers, and more species receive additional protections at global wildlife meeting

Governments from around the world recently gathered to discuss the threat of wildlife trade on species.

Hawksbill turtle swimming underwater in North Madagascar.

Why They Matter

  • This big cat is both admired and feared by people around the world. If forests are emptied of every last tiger, all that will remain are distant legends and zoo sightings.

  • The tiger has evolved over thousands of years. Currently, this big cat is being trapped, its parts trafficked for various purposes, and pushed out of its home. Many that are left in the wild cling to survival in isolated patches of forest scattered across Asia.

  • To save tigers, we need to secure forest habitats across Asia where they live. By protecting large, biologically diverse landscapes, we allow tigers to roam and preserve the many other endangered species that live there. In order to protect just one tiger, we have to conserve around 25,000 acres of forest.

  • As a large predator, the tiger plays a key role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. These ecosystems supply both nature and people with fresh water, food, and health. Securing tiger landscapes could help protect at least nine major watersheds, which regulate and provide freshwater for up to 830 million people.  

  • Tigers can directly help some of the world’s poorest communities. Tourists go to some places where tigers exist, creating opportunities for communities with few alternatives for income to earn money. Tiger conservation projects also help provide alternative livelihoods for rural communities that not only bring in income but are more sustainable.

Threats

  • Population Around 3,900
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Poaching and illegal wildlife trade

Poaching is the most immediate threat to wild tigers. Every part of the tiger—from whisker to tail—is traded in illegal wildlife markets. A result of persistent demand, their bones and other body parts are used for modern health tonics and folk remedies, and their skins are sought after as status symbols among some Asian cultures.

There are often limited resources for guarding protected areas in the countries where tigers live. Even countries with strong enforcement of tiger protection laws continue to fight a never-ending battle against poaching, which is now often orchestrated by transnational crime syndicates that rake in significant profits from wildlife crime.

The impact from the death of a single tiger at the hands of poachers reaches beyond one single loss. If a female tiger with cubs is killed, her cubs will most likely die without their mother, and the female's potential for future breeding is lost. If a male is killed, his death can result in intensive competition for his territory among surviving males in the population, leading to potential injury and death.

Habitat loss

Tigers have lost about 95% of their historical range. Their habitat has been destroyed, degraded, and fragmented by human activities. The clearing of forests for agriculture and timber, as well as the building of road networks and other development activities, pose serious threats to tiger habitats. Tigers need wide swaths of habitat for their survival since they are very territorial. Fewer tigers can survive in small, scattered islands of habitat, which leads to a higher risk of inbreeding and makes tigers more vulnerable to poaching as they venture beyond protected areas to establish their own territories.

Human Wildlife Conflict

People and tigers increasingly compete for space. As forests shrink and prey becomes scarce, tigers are forced to leave protected areas in search of their own territories. This takes them into human-dominated areas that lie between habitat fragments, where they can hunt domestic livestock that many local communities depend on for their livelihood. In retaliation, tigers are killed or captured. “Conflict” tigers are known to end up for sale in black markets. Local community dependence on forests for fuelwood, food, and timber heightens the risk of tiger attacks on people.

people.

Effects of Climate Change

Tiger: Climate Change

Mangrove forest in the Sundarbans.

One of the world’s largest, and most uniquely-adapted, tiger populations is found in the Sundarbans—a large mangrove forest area shared by India and Bangladesh on the coast of the Indian Ocean. It is also the only coastal mangrove tiger habitat in the world. These mangrove forests harbor a variety of species, including tigers, and protect coastal regions from storm surges and wind damage. However, rising sea levels caused by climate change threaten to wipe out these forests and the last remaining habitat of this tiger population. According to a WWF study, without mitigation efforts, projected sea-level rise—about a foot by 2070—could destroy nearly the entire Sundarbans tiger habitat.

Tiger "Farms"

Current estimates indicate that there are over 7,000 tigers being held in more than 200 “farms” in East and Southeast Asia. Roughly three-quarters of these tigers are located in China, with the remainder found mostly in Thailand, Laos, and Viet Nam. The current scale of captive breeding efforts within these farms is a significant obstacle to the recovery and protection of wild tiger populations because they perpetuate the demand for tiger products and undermine enforcement efforts. WWF has raised the issue of tiger farms through direct engagement with governments in countries with active tiger farms, and advocates banning the sale of all tiger parts and products, ending breeding and phasing out the farms.

What WWF Is Doing

Installing camera trap in Tesso Nilo national park

We can save wild tigers. In 2010, the 13 tiger range countries committed to TX2—doubling wild tiger numbers by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger. In pursuing TX2, WWF and its partners have taken a comprehensive approach to tiger conservation.

Protecting Tigers

WWF works to enforce zero tolerance for tiger poaching across Asia. We help build the capacity of enforcement units in each landscape and install the best new technologies to assist local agencies in achieving maximum results. We invest in stronger law enforcement by improving the effectiveness of wildlife rangers, training personnel from enforcement agencies on tools such as SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool), and empowering community patrols and enforcement networks.

Preserving and Connecting Tiger Habitat

Tigers need landscapes to thrive, and our work to protect and connect their fragile habitat is based on rigorous scientific analysis. WWF has chosen places to focus its resources based on the best available science. These areas are where densities of prey and tigers are at their highest. The locations encompass tiger corridors that link tiger sites within landscapes. Our work includes building local capacity to manage protected areas, coordinating with partners to manage core tiger areas and corridors, and addressing human-wildlife conflict and the impacts of infrastructure development in tiger landscapes.

Monitoring Tigers and Their Prey

Camera trap image of Sumatran tiger cub, Riau, Indonesia

Monitoring tigers and their prey is essential to achieving our goal of doubling wild tiger populations. By employing camera traps, tracking technologies and DNA collected from scat (droppings), we scrutinize the progress of tiger populations in order to adapt our strategies and make conservation decisions based on strong science and field experience.

Building Political Will

WWF works with governments across the 13 tiger range countries with wild tiger populations to maintain momentum around the conservation of tigers, which is an asset that can enhance their development agendas. By linking tiger conservation with forest preservation and carbon sequestration efforts, tiger range nations and their partners can demonstrate their commitment to promoting a healthy environmental and economic future.

Eliminating Tiger Trade

The trade in tiger parts and products is a major threat to wild tiger survival. Together with TRAFFIC, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, we implement strategies to stop wildlife criminal networks, help governments shut down black markets, and change consumer behavior. We conduct investigations to document the tiger trade, catalyze action against it, and train enforcement agencies. We continue to champion transnational wildlife enforcement networks and build strategies to reduce demand for tiger parts and products.

Projects

  • 2012 Fuller Symposium: Conservation Crime

    Global leaders shared their insights on the growing crisis of wildlife crime at the 2012 Fuller Symposium. The symposium was held on November 14, 2012 at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.

  • Shutting Down Tiger Farms

    Tiger ‘farms’ are captive facilities that breed tigers to supply or directly engage in the commercial trade of tiger parts or products. WWF is calling for greater oversight and protection of all captive tigers

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Experts

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