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Tiger : Roaring in distress

Updated on February 6, 2010
A Siberian Tiger by Rodolfo Clix.
A Siberian Tiger by Rodolfo Clix.


Tiger, Panthera tigris, is the biggest member of the cat family (Felidae) and the only striped wild cat. The tiger replaces the lion as King of the Beast in eastern Asian cultures. Humans admire tigers as much as they fear them, and the tiger figures predominantly in Asian myths, religion, art and imagination. Even in places where tigers have become extinct or never existed in the wild, they live in myth and legend.Tigers are perfectly designed predators possessing grace, beauty and awesome power. They are the most powerful among all the four big cats, and following Bergmann's rule they increase in size relative to latitude - from South to North. Consequently, Indonesian tigers are the smallest and the Siberian tiger is the largest.

Today, there are six different surviving sub-species of tiger. By the turn of the 20th century, there was nine subspecies of tiger :

1. Bengal tiger, 2. Indo-chinese tiger, 3. Malayan tiger, 4. Sumatran tiger, 5. Siberian Tiger, 6. South China tiger, 7. Bali tiger(extinct), 8. Java tiger (extinct), and 9. Caspian tiger (extinct). Malayan tiger was recognised as a separate sub-species from the Indo-chinese tiger in 2004.

Tiger habitats range from grassland, swamp, rain-forest and the taiga. As tigers ambush their prey, camouflage with their surrounding is essential for a successful hunt. Although tigers are excellent hunters, only one out of twenty hunt is successfull . A white tiger (mutant and they aren't albinos) may not survive in the wild. If it does, the hunting strategies may have to be different or at least environment favours it, making sure that it's not an ice tiger. Prey consists of Sambar, Chital, Barking deer, Wild hogs, Water buffalo, Blue bull (Nilgai), Gaur, Tapir, Rusa deer, Baby elephants, Baby rhinos, Manchurian elk, Sika deer, Musk deer, wild boar and Monkey. But they, sometimes, prey on Leopards, Bear, full grown crocodile, Python and human (Sunderbans). But, one amateur photographer (M.D. Parashar : 'Tigress on a Crocodile') spoke of the duel with a swamp crocodile; the tigress defeated the14 feet crocodile after 2 hours and simply left the croc without eating it.

Sunderban (Bengal tiger) tigers do not hesitate to attack human for some unknown reasons. They are also smaller than other northern and eastern Indian Bengal tigers. They weigh at an average of 140 kg (308 lb). A tiger attacking a fisherman's boat and jungle patrol boats is not an uncommon report. In Sundarban, humans constitute a small percent of tiger diet.

Tiger and leopard skin seized in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India(Photo:  Jay Ulall (Stern / Black Star)
Tiger and leopard skin seized in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India(Photo: Jay Ulall (Stern / Black Star)

Threats to tiger

Just less than hundred years ago, more than 100,000 tigers once roamed the continent of Asia from eastern Turkey and the Caspian region of Western Asia, the whole of Indian sub-continent stretching through Indo-china, Myanmar, Thailand, China, Far eastern parts like the Koreas and Siberia, and even the southern parts such as Malaysia and Indonesian islands (Bali, Java and Sumatra). Now, there are less than 4,000 left in the wild. India, which boasted of its1/3rd of world's wild tiger population has shrinked from more than 4000 tigers in 1991, to less than 1700 tigers in 2006/2007 census. By the 1950's, tigers living around the Caspian Sea (Caspian tiger) were extinct; between 1937 and 1972, the Bali and Java tigers disappeared; South china tiger, with at best of not more than 50 individuals, is nearly extinct in the wild. Now, tigers are found only in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Lao, Thailand, Vietnam, China, North Korea, far eastern Russia, Sumatra and Malaysia.

There are numerous causes contributing to the dwindling numbers of tiger. Causes such as habitat destructions (deforestation and encroachment) and man-tiger conflicts with people living in the forest area are one non-fictional concern. People eventually try to kill them fearing for any future accidents, either by poisoning or in anyway they can. Poaching is another big issue, or perhaps the biggest of them all. Tiger poaching has become a serious concern in every tiger country. With laws passed in every country (even China banned it in 1993) against poaching and trading tiger parts, underground tiger trade nexus have become more sophisticated. Tiger parts such as the skins are sold ( of one tiger) for more than U.S. $ 10,000 in the international market. Tigers are also poached for their bones. Tiger bones, which are relatively easy to smuggle, are used by the Chinese in a variety of medicinal products. China is the biggest retail market from where the tiger skins and parts are further supplied to Vietnam, Taiwan, West Asia, South Korea and Japan.

Here is a list of tiger parts used to cure ailments :

1. Skin - treating mental illness.

2. Teeth - rabies, asthma and sores on penis.

3. Bone - headaches, rheumatism, leg and lower back paralysis, weakness and even dysentery.

4. Whiskers - toothache.

5. Blood - strengthening constipation, will power and even potency.

6. Brain - curing laziness and pimples.

7. Fat - vomiting, dog bites, bleeding, haemorrhoid's and scalp ailments in children.

8. Tail - various skin diseases.

9. Claws - as sedative for insomnia.

10. Bile - convulsions in children with meningitis.

11. Penis - as aphrodisiac.

12. Dung or feces - boils, hemorrhoids and alcoholism.

13. Eyeballs - epilepsy and malaria.

In Taiwan restaurants, a bowl of tiger penis soup cost US $ 320. The bones in Taiwanese local market cost $ 1,250 per Kilogram.The annual turnover reported by Interpol sources in illegal wildlife trade is 6 billion $. Imagine how lucrative illegal wildlife trades can be. As long as the traditional culture of tiger medicine use is encouraged by any community, the results and consequences for the future are very clear. It is better to stick to scientific herbs and drugs, as the ailments curable by tiger parts can equally be cured by all modern medicines. Though the Chinese Government's decision to ban the illegal trading of tiger parts has been made effective since the past decade, the persuasive demands of the people for tiger parts are too enticing for revenue generation that Tiger farmers are pushing for trading tiger parts. Leaders of Traditional Chinese medicines have recently denounced their advocacy for using tiger parts. With more and more people participating in the effort to keep the the trading at bay, Siberian tigers and others have recovered except for the recent plummeting of tiger counts in India. Efforts and plans have been made to rewild the Farm tigers in China.

Save China's Tigers

The first book is specially recommended by me for wildlife enthusiasts

Conservations around the world

Conservation effort such as the Project tiger in India was considered one of the most successful conservation programs until Sariska (Rajasthan state, near the famous Ranthambore) lost all its tigers. Now, new plans and schemes are formulated and using state-of-the-art technology will be encouraged. Sariska was one of the WWF directly funded reserve. Recently, younger recruits for forest guards have been suggested. Supports for the conservationists will also step up when they have trouble acting against poachers having connection with high political profiles. In some part, tiger hunting communities are provided alternative means of livelihood.

In China, the Save China's Tigers project has done a tremendous job in an effort to rewilding South China Tigers into the wild in China and South Africa. Tibetans are known to wear Tiger and Leopard skin as their traditional dresses. Dalai lama pleaded the people to stop buying and wearing wild animal products. Many Tibetans burnt their animal skins. In Russia, WWF and World Conservation Society work along with local NGO's to protect the Siberian tigers. Compared to the 1996 census, the 2005 census showed improvement or at least a stability. Indo-chinese tigers are now protected in their respective countries. However, low expertise (Vietnam), instability in the area(Cambodia) and inability to control the situation (Lao PDR) make efforts less effective. The other countries like Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia are doing quite well. All of them are member of CITES. But data and statistic reports may still be exaggerated. The Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) has taken up all efforts to collaborate with all tiger prioritizing organisations to work for habitat protection, human-tiger conflict resolution, law enforcement, monitoring of illegal trade, research, education and public awareness of the Malayan tiger. So far they have partnered six organisations. Likewise, Indonesian government has stepped up efforts. The Indonesian Forestry Ministry and Safari has established cooperation with the Australian Zoo to conserve Sumatran tiger and other wild endangered species.

In 2008, the World Bank has taken up initiative to help conserve tigers around the world by providing funds, low interest loans, interest free credits, technical assistance and education, health, infrastructure and communications to developing countries for anything related to tiger conservation. The World Bank will be working with NGO's, scientists, institutions and government around the world. Big name like 'Save The Tiger Fund' has given out 313 grants worth more than US $ 15,000,000 to 13 different tiger countries between the year 1995-2007.

Wild tiger population :

1. Bengal tiger : 1300-1700 (latest census in India - 1165 to 1657).


2. Indo-chinese tiger : 700-1225.

3. Malayan tiger : 600-750.

4. Siberian tiger : 431-529.

5. Sumatran tiger : Less than 400.

6. South China tiger : 20-30.

Even the above figures are not precise and actual numbers may be lesser. It is sad to know that there are more tigers in captivity than they are in the wild. In the United States alone, more than 5000 tigers are in captivity.





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