Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200. David Nussbaum on the battle to make sure that the largest of the big cats survives and thrives

Share

The opening lines of William Blake’s famous poem have long evoked the enigmatic beauty of tigers in the wild. At the time Blake wrote his poem in the mid-19th century, there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild.

These days, for the tourists drawn to India, Nepal and other “tiger range states” in the hope of glimpsing a wild tiger, they burn less brightly – their numbers estimated at as few as 3,200 following a 95 per cent decline in the past century alone.

Mirrored by a 95 per cent shrinking and fragmentation of the tiger’s range area over the past 150 years, this dramatic fall in wild tiger numbers has accelerated in recent decades because of poaching for tiger parts – their skins for their distinctive beauty and their bones and other parts for use in traditional Asian medicines.

More recently, increased pressure in the context of the rapidly expanding wealth in South-east Asia, the presentation and even consumption of tiger parts has become a fashionable status symbol.

Despite the trade in tigers and their parts being illegal since 1975, recent analysis has found that tiger seizures by law enforcement officers between 2000 and 2014 represented at least 1,590 tigers killed for their parts, suggesting an average of more than two tigers killed per week.

I recall the sad experience of seeing tiger skins and other parts which had been recovered from poachers, in my first visit to see our work overseas after I joined WWF.

From the perspective of a conservation organisation such as WWF, tigers are a crucial species for the integrity of the ecosystems in which they live. As top predators, tigers keep populations of prey species in check – which in turn maintains the balance between herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed, and so on.

 

This results in a balanced yet dynamic ecosystem which in turn provides a healthy environment and important financial, cultural and spiritual benefits for local communities. The wild tiger population can therefore be used as a barometer for the health of the whole ecosystem. But, for so many of us – and for centuries judging by Blake’s poem, as well as the way in which they are revered in many countries where they are found – the tiger is iconic and to be valued for its inherent beauty and majesty. 

The lion may be the king of the jungle but the tiger, the largest of the big cats, holds a special place in our affections, as evidenced by the tiger being one of the most popular of WWF-UK’s “adoptions”.

As part of our tiger conservation work, WWF has identified 12 “priority landscapes’ as a focus for projects on the ground. These are landscapes where we know there’s a great opportunity for wild tigers to recover given the right support – support such as boosting anti-poaching operations and increasing populations of tiger prey.

The Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain village is the largest tiger captivity centre, or ‘tiger farm’, in China The Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain village is the largest tiger captivity centre, or ‘tiger farm’, in China (EPA)
WWF is working with the governments of countries in which wild tigers are still found – from India and Nepal through to China and the Russian far-east, and south to Indonesia and Malaysia – to ensure that tigers remain a top conservation priority for them.

When the 13 tiger range states met in 2010 – the most recent Chinese year of the tiger – at the global “Tiger Summit” in St Petersburg, wild tiger numbers were at a critically low level. 

At that meeting, attending governments committed to the most ambitious and visionary species conservation goal ever set – to double tiger numbers before the next Chinese year of the tiger, in 2022. The programme, labelled “Tigers Times Two”, or TX2, is the first time that governments have committed to this kind of target for a wild animal species, and has propelled tiger conservation efforts to a new level.

WWF was a driving force behind the 2010 St Petersburg Tiger Summit and remains a major force behind TX2.  WWF’s contribution in support of the TX2 project has been the “Tigers Alive Initiative”, helping tigers to recover in our priority landscapes and beyond.

Tigers in the wild need large areas over which to roam as they can travel more than 100km to establish their territories – that’s the same as walking from London to Portsmouth! 

For this reason, WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative works with governments local communities and other organisations to help protect tiger habitats and create “wildlife corridors” connecting those habitats – in some cases, across international borders.

The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species (Getty Images) With tiger habitat being lost at an alarming rate, and the surge in poaching over recent years, the future of tigers in the wild remains precarious. 

But given protection, space to roam and sufficient prey, tiger numbers can claw their way back from the brink – we are already beginning to see that happen in some places. 

We’re determined to make sure these magnificent, much-loved creatures survive, and thrive. With the support of people from all around the world, we can help tigers burn brightly once more.

For more information about WWF’s work to help protect tigers, visit: wwf.org.uk/tigers

David Nussbaum is the CEO of WWF-UK

How to help:

Text: TIGER 70060 to make a £3 donation

Telephone: 0844 7360036

To adopt a tiger: bit.ly/WWFAdopt

To donate to WWF Russia: wwf.org.uk/protecttigers

This is a charity donation service.  Texts cost £3 plus one message at  your standard network rate (age 16+; UK mobiles only). The WWF will receive 100 per cent of your £3  gift. The WWF may contact you  again in future. If you would prefer  it not to call, please text NOCALL WWF to 70060. If you would  prefer not to receive SMS  messages from the WWF, please  text NOSMS WWF to 70060. If  you wish to discuss a mobile  payment call 0203 282 7863.  Except for the Adopt a Tiger programme, donations made  through the provided links and telephone number will go towards  the WWF’s tiger projects in the Russian far east.  For more details, visit  wwf.org.uk/tigerterms. WWF UK, charity registered in England, number 1081247, and in Scotland, number SC039593.

Tomorrow: The hunters protect the hunted

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
David Nussbaum
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week