Concerns Over the Endangered Tiger Population
The world tiger population has declined from about 8,000 in the 1980s to fewer than 3,000 today. Global urbanization has diminished the tiger’s habitat to 5% - 7% of what it once was. Tigers roam 13 Asian countries looking for prey that in many cases is owned or poached by human neighbors. Demand for tiger skin and bone in Chinese black markets drives hunters to kill the big cats. Millions of dollars raised by conservation agencies worldwide hasn’t succeeded in stopping the tiger’s demise. Diane and her guests explore why tigers are disappearing and what can be done to save them.
zoologist, wildlife ecologist, chief executive officer of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group; author of “Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed”
author and contributing writer, National Geographic magazine
chief, division of international conservation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Tigers are disappearing from the earth at an alarming rate. Fewer than 3,000 remain in the wild. So far, conservation efforts have largely failed to save the big cat. New approaches focus more on scientific study of existing tiger populations, and working with governments to crack down on illegal hunting.
Only About 3,000 Tigers Left
Tigers are especially vulnerable to attack because they're valuable, said Panthera's Alan Rabinowitz. "Tigers dead are much more valuable to local people than alive, and it's tied into the Asian medicinal trade. It's tied into many other facts, primarily the medicinal trade," Rabinowitz said. Some Chinese people believe that tiger parts provide a cure for many different illnesses, and that they can make a man more virile. And as tigers get even rarer in the wild, they become even more valuable.
"Tigers Are In The Emergency Room"
Tigers are bleeding out right now, Rabinowitz said. "We have to focus our resources on stopping the bleeding, and that means law enforcement, that means making sure that there's abundant prey for tigers, people are not killing tigers, people are not killing tigers' prey," he said. Currently, people are destroying much of the tigers' natural habitat, as well as tigers' natural prey, which is crowding and starving them.
"Haunted By The Challenge" Of Writing About Extinction
"The challenge of trying to convey the potency of absence is unlike anything else I can think of," Caroline Alexander said. Tigers are no longer just rare animals - they've been threatened for a long time, and now the threat is perilous, she said.
The Role Of The U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service
Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is primarily a domestic agency, it does have international mandates. The Endangered Species Act refers to endangered species not just in the United States, but all over the world. "We can't have too much law enforcement," Herb Raffaele of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. "Every site that has tigers, if it is not properly controlled, they end up being poached practically everywhere," Raffaele said.
You can read the full transcript here.
Images courtesy of National Geographic, from the December 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.