Posted by Michael Starbuck on 29th Jul 2014

Were you aware that today, July 29th, is designated as International Tiger Day? Founded four years ago at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit, it is a day in which attention can be drawn to these magnificent cats and the problems that they face in our current world climate – of which, sadly, there are many. Organisations from across the globe now champion the day, with supporters including the World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute – to name but a few.

So why a day dedicated solely to the tiger? Well, it may come as a surprise to some of you, but only around 3,000 of these majestic predators remain in the wild today – their populations decimated from the 100,000 + they were around a century ago. Experts argue that since the turn of the 20th Century, we have lost 97% of the planet's wild tiger populations. Unfortunately, we have already lost numerous subspecies (Bali, Caspian, Javan), and unless something drastic is done, the likelihood is that these beautiful animals will soon be wiped off the face of our planet forever.

So what threats remain for the 3,000 or so cats that remain? Below is a short summary of the major issues faced by these iconic cats –

Habitat Loss– Around 100 years ago, tigers roamed across the majority of Asia, with populations stretching from Eastern Turkey to the Russian Far East and from the Northern tip of Siberia all the way down to Bali. In a relatively short amount of time, the human race has reduced the range of tiger habitat to 93% of what it once was. This fragmentation has had dire consequences, forcing tigers to live in small isolated pockets of remaining territory and subsequently making it much harder for them to reproduce and encourage viable population growth for the future. What's more, the reality is that this habitat loss is getting increasingly worse. Shockingly, according to a report done by the WWF, the world's forests are lost at a rate of as many as 36 football fields per minute. This of course has mass consequences for not only tigers but also for a whole host of other endangered species.

Poaching for Tiger Parts– Tiger bones and other body parts have long been revered in traditional Asian medicine – believed culturally in China to hold special healing and protective powers. Though the trade and use of these parts is supposedly illegal, parts from a single tiger can still catch as much as U$50,000 on the black market, meaning that the poaching of these animals for their parts (and skins) is considerably alluring to criminal networks. What's more, there is considerable evidence that the trade of tiger parts still exists. According to the wildlife trade network (TRAFFIC), the past two years have seen parts from at least 200 tigers confiscated, with as many as 1000 feared over the past ten years. Seeing as there are only 3,000 individuals left in the wild, this is a chilling fact that really should scare policy makers into action. Sadly, whilst there is still demand from traditional Asian medicine, this is an issue that looks to remain for many years to come.

Human Wildlife Conflict– This is a major issue, particularly in parts of India (where the largest population of wild tigers remain). With decreasing habitat, tigers are forced to move outside of protected areas of forest and into local villages, where competition with local communities is inevitable. Here the normal prey species are absent, so many tigers are driven to hunt livestock and, in some cases (particularly in the Sunderbans region of India and Bangladesh), man. This conflict often results in revenge killings of these "conflict" tigers, with their parts often ending up on the black market as an afterthought.

So, from what has been discussed so far, the future looks pretty bleak for these magnificent animals. Their numbers are at their lowest that they have ever been, and currently they look to decrease even further. There is hope however, and WWF and Hollywood actor Leonardo Di Caprio (amongst others) are leading the way in trying to counteract the damage that has already been done and tackle the problem head on.

With a goal to double the number of wild tigers to 6,000 by 2020, the intiative really needs support. More can be found out about the 'Save Tigers Now' campaign here.

So what will it take?

- Ramped up anti-poaching measures.

- Inform and move consumers of tiger products (including skins, bones and teeth) to change their views and habits.

- Enforce more stringent laws banning tiger products.

- The protection of the tiger's habitat (of which the WWF has designated 12 priority areas).

- Reduce tiger-human conflict by providing innovative solutions and educational progammes to local communities in areas where this is a problem.

- Restrict and monitor tiger populations held in captivity across the globe.

- Maintain key conservation, research and monitoring techniques of these magnificent cats in the areas in which they remain. This includes the sort of work done on 'The Great Tiger Project' and the 'Highlights of India Voluntour' – both projects dedicated to the conservation of these beautiful animals.

- Increase political will, funding and commitment on a global scale.

The fight is a tough one – but it is completely worth it! After all, can you imagine a world without these magnificent and iconic cats? They need our help: let's not make them a statistic. If you would like to sign the pledge or donate to the 'Save Tigers Now' cause, please don't hesitate to click here now.

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