Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Global Tiger Day: Tigers are on the Brink of Extinction

International Tiger Day, also known as Global Tiger Day, is an annual event held every 29 July to promote conservation efforts and raise awareness about the issues of declining population. The Day was created in 2010 at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit. Tiger populations have hit an all time low due largely to habitat destruction and poaching. Now, organizations from across the globe champion Tiger Day including WWF, Traffic, National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute.

There are six main species of tigers living in the wild today: Siberian tigers; Bengal tigers; Indochinese tigers; Malayan tigers; Sumatran tigers and South China tigers. Several subspecies of tigers have already gone extinct, including Bali and Javan tigers.

Tigers have been declining rapidly over the last 100 years, with 97 percent of wild tigers being lost in the last 100 years. At the turn of the last century there were 100,000, at present there are as few as 3000 live in the wild today.

Tigers have lost 93 percent of their natural habitat due to the expansion of cities and agriculture by humans. Deforestation is decreasing not only habitats but prey. The fact that their habitats have been reduced to isolated pockets not only makes it harder for them to find prey, it also increases the risk of inbreeding.

These small islands of habitat make tigers more vulnerable to poaching. Tigers are also poached for medicinal purposes. Their bones and body parts are considered status symbols and they are used in Chinese medicine as pain killers and aphrodisiacs. Their claws are used to treat insomnia and their hides are widely coveted. As their prey gets scarce, tigers are forced to hunt domestic livestock, which has led many local communities to kill them on sight.

Climate change is also posing a major threat, with rising sea levels threatening to wipe out even more of their habitat. One of the world’s largest tiger populations is found in the Sundarbans—a large mangrove forest area shared by India and Bangladesh on the northern coast of the Indian Ocean. This area harbors Bengal tigers and protects coastal regions from storm surges and wind damage. However, rising sea levels that were 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—nearly a foot by 2070—could destroy nearly the entire Sundarbans tiger habitat.

At this rate, all tigers living in the wild could be extinct in 5 years. Thankfully there are a number of measures underway to help protect tigers. This includes conservation policies that protect tigers in parks and preserves. To enable tigers to expand their genetic diversity wildlife corridors have been established to allow them to move between protected zones.

Forest rangers, local law enforcement, governments and conservation organizations are cooperating to help protect the tiger. Educational efforts are also crucial to help these conservation activities.

Tiger protection also benefits from efforts to eliminate the trade of tigers and tiger parts. Two large scale international regimes are the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the International Union for Conservation (IUCN).

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