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Tigers: they’re iconic; the perfect symbol of ferocious power, stealth and exoticism.
But they could well be extinct within a decade, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, which has just launched a campaign to raise awareness about their perilous situation.
Shockingly, there are only 3,200 tigers left in the entire world–a stark contrast to the at least 100,000 that roamed the earth at the start of the 20th century. What’s even more shocking is that over 80% of this decline has happened over the past 30 years.
Why? Well, loss of habitat is partly to blame. Tigers normally need to eat large animals like deer and boar. But with humans encroaching on the territory of all animals, such medium sized beasts are few and far between, meaning that large predators are being forced to subsist on tiny creatures like birds and rats, which in turn often leads to malnutrition and starvation.
But the biggest threat by far is poaching.
‘The Asian medicine trade is causing this out-of-control killing of tigers in the belief tiger parts have medicinal value. They don’t. There are highly organised criminal gangs going into forests to kill tigers to sell the parts for Asian medicine. It’s a very lucrative illegal industry and the result is tigers are now on the brink of extinction,” says animal expert and TV presenter Liz Bonnin.
Bonnin has presented British TV shows including Bang Goes The Theory and, most recently, Operation Snow Tiger, which looked at the plight of the Siberian tiger, of which there are only 300 left in the wild.
Along with the World Wildlife Federation, Bonnin aims to educate the public about tiger conservation by promoting ecotourism, restoring degraded forest and grasslands to give tigers a home, , reducing human/tiger conflict, helping catch poachers and removing snares, amongst other measures.
‘This is the final call for the tiger,’ said Bonnin in an interview with the Metro newspaper. ‘We’re getting to the point where soon we’ll no longer be able to say there’s hope for the tiger – we need to act now.’
So how can you act? First of all, buy products that carry the sustainable palm oil logo to ensure you’re not supporting plantations that are destroying Sumatra’s forests, where tigers and other endangered animals live.
Should you ever buy lumber or paper, ensure it comes from sustainably managed forests too. Illegal logging is destroying and degrading vital habitat for Amur tigers (also known as Siberian tigers) and their prey. There are only 400 Amur tigers left in the wild.
If you visit Asia, why not go to the national parks or tiger reserves? Make sure you find ethical operators who donate their profits to local communities or anti-poaching groups. And of course, never ever buy souvenirs made from wildlife parts or products.