The majority of dedicated Tiger tours take place in the jungles and nature reserves of India. The country has the highest numbers of the big cat – comprising around 70% of the global population – primarily due to its strong commitment to conservation programmes implemented as far back as the 1970s. |
While the figures from India are impressive, on a global scale the big cat remains on the endangered list, with less than 4,000 surviving in the wild. With eco-tourism projects (including Tiger tours) and conservation programmes bringing attention to their plight, the profile of the big cats has never been higher, but the situation remains critical.
Conservation Through Education
Even in India, where conservationists have had major successes, there is still a culture of fear in some communities when it comes to the big cat. Although the government has declared a 'zero tolerance' of poaching the animal, it's still a problem. Conservationists continue to work with local people to educate them and establish safe practices in order that they can peacefully co-exist with the animal – and the tide is definitely turning.
The Race to Reverse the Decline of the Siberian Tiger
The magnificent Siberian Tiger, also known as the Amur (largest of all the subspecies of Panthera tigris), had been hunted almost to extinction in Russia by the 1940s. At that time some very aggressive conservation laws were implemented, which saw a steady increase in numbers until the 1990s. But with the decimation of the economy came a resurgence in the practice of hunting them for their coats and body parts. Today, despite being protected, there are less than 500 surviving in the wild in Russia, and conservationists are in a desperate race to prevent the species from declining into extinction.
Tigers come under some measure of protection everywhere except Burma, though poachers continue to hunt them in China and the far east of Russia, sometimes using poisons instead of bullets – which can also threaten the delicate balance of the eco-system. High profile global campaigns have meant a dramatic decline in the fur trade, but, unfortunately, there is still a demand for the big cat's body parts for use in the lucrative traditional Chinese medicine market.
The Future of Panthera tigris
The big cat was recently voted as the most popular animal in the world and, while the title has merely aesthetic merit, it does show that conservationists are making progress in raising its profile. This is borne out by recently released figures that show an increase in the animal's population for the first time in a century.
The desperate situation cannot be overstated, however, and the surviving numbers are extremely low – critical in some subspecies. As well as the threat of disappearing habitat, global warming and pollutants also play a role in the endangerment of its survival. A limited gene pool (with pockets of populations breeding too closely within their own families) is another factor affecting their long-term future.
A Global Issue
But it's not all bad news. Genetic profiling, tougher penalties for poaching and an innovative programme to relocate some of India's big cats to other habitats – both within the country and internationally – are all positive steps in the fight for survival. Tiger tours and other responsible eco-tourism projects continue to champion the issue and there are a number of dedicated conservation organisations (including Project Tiger and the WWF) committed to ensuring its sustained, long-term survival.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tigers. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led Tiger tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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