Photo: Steve Evans, Wikimedia/CC BY
As if Mondays weren't depressing enough, there's this: Tigers could be entirely extinct in the wild in just over a decade, according to the latest reports from conservationists. There are currently only 3,200 tigers left outside of captivity. At least 1,000 were killed over the last decade by poaching alone. Many more are threatened by habitat loss caused by human development. If this trajectory continues, one of the most recognizable and universally-beloved species on the planet could be done for. The AP reports:
Wild tigers could become extinct in 12 years if countries where they still roam fail to take quick action to protect their habitats and step up the fight against poaching, global wildlife experts told a "tiger summit" Sunday. James Leape, director general of the World Wildlife Fund, told the meeting in St. Petersburg that if the proper protective measures aren't taken, tigers may disappear by 2022, the next Chinese calendar year of the tiger.The 'tiger summit' referenced in the article is a major conference of nations, hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, that are gathered with the goal of forging a plan to double tiger populations by the very date that conservationists say they could disappear. It has tentatively approved a 12-year program to conserve habitats and deter hunting.
Their habitat is being destroyed by forest cutting and construction, and they are a valuable trophy for poachers who want their skins and body parts prized in Chinese traditional medicine.
Poaching is the leading cause of concern, as the market for tiger parts continues to boom in China. As a result, the few tigers remaining in the wild are at constant risk -- if the summit is to see any success, it will need address this thorny issue in greater depth.
It's rare that such a summit is convened in the name of saving a single species, but under the circumstances, it's justified. Yes, there are other important species the world over that are dying out -- and dying out at such a rapid clip that scientists have termed the phenomenon the '6th mass extinction'. But a success story for a 'marquee species' like the tiger could have a galvanizing effect on conservation efforts in general. After all, if we can't organize a plan to save one of the world's most famous species from getting snuffed out by human causes, then the prospects for protecting others are pretty grim.