Is the Tiger Population Really Bouncing Back As Nations Fight Illegal Trade?

The newspapers tell us that the tiger is starting to bounce back as nations fight the illegal trade in tiger body parts. They say that after more than a century of unrelenting bad news for tigers and the tiger population in the wild, the species is finally beginning to recover from the brink of extinction. Big words. Big ideas. The message is hopeful and optimistic but is it justified?

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) compiled tiger population numbers from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) data and recent tiger surveys by some countries. They are confident about their figures. However, they are estimates. Counting tigers is difficult. In the past there has been a lot of missed counts and poor estimates. Also, I don't rate the IUCN. For me, they are asleep on the job.

The WWF are confident that the actual number of wild tigers has risen since 2010 but they are unable to say by how much. That is not going to give us confidence that they have a handle on tiger population numbers.

They say that there are now an estimated 3,890 in the wild on the planet which is an increase on the 3,200 thought to have existed in 2010. We know that about 100 years ago there were approximately 100,000 tigers in the wild.

The new estimate was published on the eve of a tiger conference in Delhi for ministers from 13 countries that either have wild tigers living in their country or only recently lost the last tiger in their country.

For example, a week ago tigers were declared officially extinct in Cambodia. None had been spotted since 2007. They have been killed off by poaching of both tigers and tiger prey. Cambodia is planning to reintroduce up to 8 tigers from other countries into protected forests. Personally, I'm not optimistic about this program. They will certainly have to improve protection for the tiger if there is any chance of it working.

We know that poachers hunt and kill the tiger in order to feed demand in China and elsewhere for their skins and body parts. The body parts are used in traditional medicine and have been for 1,500 years. In addition body parts are eaten by humans for various reasons all the which are completely and hopelessly fictional but sadly the people who eat tigers actually believe it does them good.

Sadly, the body parts of at least 1,590 tigers were seized by law enforcement officials between January 2000 and April 2014 according to a well-known monitoring network called Traffic.

It is said that India has recorded the biggest increase in tigers since 2010. Their population is up more than 500 from 1,706 to 2,226. In Russia, numbers have risen from 360 to 443. In Nepal numbers have risen from 155 to 198 and in Bhutan from 75 to 103. In Bangladesh numbers have fallen from 440 to 106.

In China the number has fallen from 45 to fewer than seven. However, this is a pure estimate and it is my belief that there are no tigers left in China. There's been no recent survey. These figures really are not to be taken on face value. There is often a political element to estimating tiger numbers. They want them to be up and buoyant in order to advertise that the people managing tiger conservation are doing a good job when to be brutally honest they are not.

Although 13 tiger nations agreed in 2014 to carry out full systematic national surveys by 2016, several have not followed through on their promises. These countries include Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Accurate national surveys are essential in order to plan effective conservation.

The leader of WWF said that a strong action plan for the next six years is essential if the nations where tigers are said to exist were to fulfil their pledge made in 2010 to double while tiger numbers to 6,000 by 2022. It is difficult to be optimistic.


Popular posts from this blog

Mythology in China - Bai Hu (white tiger)

Can tigers meow?

Reliable weight data for wild tigers are difficult to find