Tiger Tops WWF's List of Ten Critically Endangered Species

A shot of a Bengal tiger's face and upper body against a grass background.

Jami Tarris / Getty Images

With only an estimated 3,200 tigers left on the planet, the irony of the fact that this year will be the Chinese Year of the Tiger is not lost on many (including myself as my family and I gear up to celebrate Chinese New Year). But the question is: in the face of crushing pressures from habitat loss and illegal poaching, how many tigers will be left in twelve years when the next Year of the Tiger rolls around?

In response to this perilous situation, the World Wildlife Foundation is highlighting the tiger on their list of the animals that are facing extinction and who need "special monitoring" in the next 12 months.Listed alongside the tiger are other critically endangered species such as the polar and panda bears. Says Diane Walkington, head of species programme for the WWF in the UK:

This year has been designated the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations and so we have created a list of 10 critically important endangered animals that we believe will need special monitoring over the next 12 months...This year will also be the Chinese Year of the Tiger, and so we have put it at the top of our list. It will have special iconic importance.

In the last 100 years, world tiger populations have been decimated by 95% due to the demand for tiger bones, skins and other body parts that are used in traditional Asian medicine.

Though there has been progress in recent years in attempts to boost tiger numbers - most notably in the case of the overhunted Amur tiger - three of the main nine sub-species of Panthera tigris - the Bali, Caspian and Java tigers - are now extinct, consigned forever to the mists of evolutionary history. With the exception of the Bengal and Indochinese - only Bengal, Amur, Indochinese, Sumatran and Malayan tigers remain, numbering only in the hundreds per species.

But saving the tiger and many other species means tackling the problem at its root: habitat loss brought on by climate change.

"Of course, there are thousands of other species on the endangered list," adds Walkington. "However, there is particular importance in selecting a creature such as the tiger for special attention.

"To save the tiger, we have to save its habitat - which is also home to many other threatened species. So if we get things right and save the tiger, we will also save many other species at the same time."

The WWF's critically endangered species includes:

  • Amur Leopard
  • Sunda Tiger
  • Bornea and Sumatran Orangutan
  • Hawksbill Turtle
  • Cross River, Eastern Lowland, and Western Lowland Gorilla
  • Monarch Butterfly
  • Black, Juvan, and Sumatran Rhinoceros
  • Sumatran Elephant
  • Yangtze Finless and the Vaquita Porpoise
  • Saola