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Chinese New Year is on 28 January - when the year of the tiger begins. Ironically, though, Chinese tigers have dwindled to a point where they now number around 50 and are facing extinction. Those elsewhere in Asia are doing slightly better, but there is a real threat that the tiger could be extinct by the millennium.

According to Global Tiger Patrol there are now a maximum of 5,480 tigers left world-wide - down from more than 100,000 25 years ago. Siberian and Sumatran tigers are in their hundreds, Indochina has an estimated 1,050 and India heads the game with a maximum of 3,700. The Caspian, Javan and Balinese tigers are already extinct.

The threat of extinction world-wide is apparently fuelling "tiger tourism", says Chris Breen, of Wildlife Worldwide: "The fact that tigers are being killed is encouraging people to come to us so that they can travel and see the tiger before it disappears."

Simple arithmetic means the odds of spotting a tiger are poor, but the best places to visit include Bandhogarh, Corbett and Ranthambhor national parks in India, and Bardia and Chitwan national parks in Nepal.

With the recent success of the BBC's Land of the Tiger television series, tiger tourism is likely to increase. However, a spokesperson for Global Tiger Patrol says opinion is divided about how tiger tourism is managed, particularly "tiger shows" for tourists - where trackers find tigers and radio to a central point, then tourists are taken by elephant to see them. As if being harried by elephants and tourists were not enough, the tiger can then be easily found by poachers after the shows.

Sue Wheat

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