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

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: I am currently recruiting level 3 n...

Are you a Teacher interested in Special Needs?

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified Teacher w...

**ESOL**

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job:* The Tutor will prepar...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album