Despite gains, on this Tiger Day, we must remain vigilant
With wild tiger populations at such critically low levels, it is no wonder that the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and many peer conservation groups and governmental agencies have maintained focused efforts on tiger protection.
The good news is the results:
Tiger numbers overall are up an estimated 40 percent with documented increases in India and Nepal.
While for years we quoted the total world tiger population as 3,000 or 3,200 individuals, the National Tiger Action Plans now suggest the population range is anywhere from 3,724 to 4,725. (We are expecting updates from Bhutan and Bangladesh by the end of this year and again from India by January 2015).
But let us not get confused, we still have a very long way to go to.
Even with the current estimates, numbers are still extremely fragile when it comes to the preservation of an iconic species that once numbered 100,000 throughout the whole of Asia.
Years of poaching pressures—resulting from a demand for tiger parts by purveyors of Traditional Chinese Medicine both in and outside of China—and death rates from human-tiger conflicts, habitat encroachment and hunting are quite strong despite our many efforts.
We usually do not talk that much about it, being rather focused to make a difference in the field. But today seems a good time to point at some of what IFAW has done in the last year alone to help tigers:
- Training and insuring rangers - IFAW has conducted bilateral trainings between Russian and Indian rangers, who share best practices about tiger conservation under the Tiger Watch Programme. The Wildlife Conservation Division of Bhutan and IFAW-WTI conducted a month-long training for around 450 forest rangers for effective wildlife crime prevention. IFAW-WTI’s unique accident insurance plan for frontline staff, providing them and/or their families quick relief in case of injuries or death on duty, is a much-needed service in the fight against poaching. Around 20,000 frontline staff from over 23 Indian states are registered under this insurance plan, and more than 110 families have gratefully received benefits over the programme’s 14 years.
- Rehabilitating and releasing tigers - As part of a joint effort, half a dozen wild Amur tigers have been rehabilitated at a facility near Vladivostok in Far East Russia. Zolushka’s release in June 2013 marked the first successful release into the wild of a rescued tiger cub in Russia. I think this was a real historical landmark. Five other orphaned Amur tigers, three males and two females followed and were successfully released to the wild this past year.
- Removing hunting snares - IFAW sponsored a patrol of the forests in Hunchun, China, an area totaling more than 800 square kilometers, to remove nearly 2,800 deadly snares left to kill tigers and their prey. We’ve also initiated anti-snare and electrocution prevention activities in central India.
- Reducing demand tiger parts - Tigers have been featured in several regional IFAW advertising campaigns. One showed mutilated Chinese characters, symbolizing the fate endangered species suffer at the hand of man. By removing one crucial stroke off the Chinese character representing elephant, tiger, bear and human being respectively, the ad prompts the viewer to consider, “When we take the tusk out of elephants, the bone out of tigers, the gall bladder out of bears, what does that make us? Are we merely beings with no humanity?”
- Advocating stiffer penalties for tiger poaching - Last year, thanks to IFAW’s tireless advocacy, Russia significantly strengthened its laws on endangered species, and possession or trade of tiger skins, bones and other derivatives is now a criminal offense. The punishment is up to seven years in prison and fine up to 2 million rbl ($65,000 USD).
- Campaigning for tigers in captivity - From the US to the UAE, we are speaking out and supporting legislation to keep or at least limit people from owning tigers. In the US, for example, IFAW has been the lead to pass the Big Cats Safety and Protection Act and recently a Senate subcommittee heard testimony in support of it. Similar legislation was passed in the New York State senate and house and is awaiting the governor’s signature to be made law.
This Tiger Day, we feel even more encouraged to keep our commitment to protect this highly endangered species from adverse threats to its existence.