Photo: World66, CC
Wild tigers in China are on the Brink of ExtinctionXie Yan, the China Country Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society, estimates that fewer than 50 South China Tigers are left in the wild, with about "10 still live in the southwestern province of Yunnan, some 15 in Tibet, and 20 or so in northwestern Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces." Even if take a step back and look at 12 Asian countries and Russia, it is estimated that only about 3,500 tigers are left in the wild, compared to around 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.
Photo: Wikipedia, CC
Why Are the Tigers Gone?
Habitat destruction and fragmentation is the main cause, along with the removal of most of the preys that tigers need to survive. But poaching is also problematic, with most of the demand coming from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and the illegal trade of pelts and bones.
If we look farther back, we find that in 1959, "Mao Zedong, in the time of the Great Leap Forward, declared the tiger and other predators such as leopards and wolves to be pests and "enemies of the people"; as a result, several "anti-pest" campaigns started." (source)
Pretty much the only hope for the survival of tigers in China comes from the animals that are being bred in captivity. The Chinese authorities claim that: "There are close to 6,000 tigers that have been artifically bred and raised in China. These tigers can breed over 1,000 baby tigers every year."
But this is not without problems. Experts warn it will be difficult for captive tigers to re-adapt to the wild, and genetic diversity needs to be maintained if the species is to have a chance at long-term survival (f.ex., if most individuals are bred from a small number of parents, they could be vulnerable to a genetic disease, potentially wiping out almost the whole population at once).
But most importantly: It is pointless to release these tigers in the wild if we keep destroying their habitat and poaching them. These problems must be solved first.
Take Action: Here's a petition sponsored by Care2 to tell China to better protect its tigers.
"With tiger population at record lows, governments are resorting to extreme measures to help protect this endangered species, including Indonesia's radical plan to rent them out to millionaires. "