Experts Weigh in on Global World Tiger Day

The goal is to double the world’s tigers by 2022. Where do we stand?

snarling tiger

Mihir Mahajan / WWF-International

There’s mixed news about wild tiger populations on Global World Tiger Day this July 29. 

Numbers are dropping in all range countries in mainland Southeast Asia with tigers extinct in some countries. They’re threatened by illegal trade in tiger parts and products, as well as increasing habitat loss.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been working with these countries since 2010 with the goal of doubling the number of tigers found globally in the wild by 2022—the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.

According to the WWF, tigers have become extinct in Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, and Vietnam. There have been significant population declines in Malaysia and Myanmar and less dramatic drops in Thailand.

With population numbers declining in all ranger countries in mainland Southeast Asia, it’s a “near certainty” that they’ll actually have fewer tigers than they did in 2010, not more, says the WWF.

Yet there are some success stories.

Indigenous community members have led anti-poaching patrols in the Belum Temengor Forest Complex in Malaysia. These patrols have helped contribute to a 94% drop in tiger snares since 2017.

In Thailand, strong management of protected areas has caused tigers to move from Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary into other nearby protected areas.

Treehugger caught up with two tiger experts from WWF-US to talk about the big cats’ population, threats, and where the 2022 goal stands. 

Treehugger: What is the current population situation for the world’s tigers? Where have there been declines and where have tigers actually become extinct?

Ginette Hemley, Senior Vice President for Wildlife Conservation, WWF-US: The current global estimate, based on reported 2016 numbers, is around 3,900. We expect an updated global population estimate will be made available in September 2022 during the next Global Tiger Summit to be hosted in Vladivostok, Russia, and will include results from tiger surveys happening over the next year in 5+ countries.

The best available evidence points to major declines in the number and distribution of wild tigers across mainland Southeast Asia with the possible exception of Thailand. Three countries in the region have lost wild tigers completely at various points within the last 25 years (Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia) and there is evidence of significant declines in two others (Malaysia and Myanmar).

How big of a problem is trafficking, as tigers are raised for parts or products?

Leigh Henry, Director for Wildlife Policy, WWF-US: Illegal trade in tiger parts and products is possibly the greatest immediate threat to the continued survival of tigers in the wild. Tiger skins, bones, and other body parts are in demand for ornamentation and traditional and folk medicines and their high value help to drive poaching and illegal markets. The market for illegal tiger products is only exacerbated by the existence of tiger farms, from which tiger parts and products also feed, and possibly stimulate, demand. They can also act as a cover for laundered wild tiger parts and products.

Over 8,000 tigers are estimated to be in captivity in China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. WWF is calling on these governments to phase out their country’s tiger farms and end the trade in tiger parts from any source. WWF is also calling on the United States, home to over 5,000 captive tigers, to place stricter controls on these animals to ensure they are not also filtering into the black market. Passing the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a bill currently before Congress, would help to do just that.

WWF had hoped to double the number of tigers by 2022. Where does that goal stand?

Hemley: India, which holds two thirds of the world’s wild tigers, has already achieved the target of doubling their wild tiger numbers and will be reporting new population estimates in 2022. We anticipate that the new numbers will be even higher.

Nepal has also almost doubled its number of tigers. And we expect next year new survey results from several countries—Bhutan, Russia, Bangladesh, India again, Nepal again. And these numbers will result in a new global population estimate. It’s hard to say now what that number will be, but the overall trend is going in the right direction. Tx2 is achievable—the question is exactly when.

View Article Sources
  1. "The World Celebrates World Tiger Day." World Wildlife Fund.