Since the beginning of the twentieth century the number of wild Tigers has been on an alarming decrease. However, it appears the tide has finally turned. The establishment of dedicated conservation programmes has resulted in the first growth in wild population numbers for over a century and, while still vulnerable, the big cat’s future is looking a little more assured. |
For those whose wildlife dream is to encounter this magnificent big cat in its natural habitat, a well-organised Tiger safari to one or more of the parks and reserves of the Indian subcontinent offers the chance to do just that. Anyone fortunate enough to be embarking on a Tiger safari should become familiar not only with the physical characteristics of the big cat, but also the major threats to its survival.
Human Intervention and Conflict Throughout Asia, the big cat’s habitat often overlaps with the urban landscape. With the destruction and fragmentation of forest habitats leading to a reduction in smaller prey species, it’s often forced to leave the protection of its own range and venture into human areas to hunt livestock. Because local communities depend on this livestock, this causes conflict, resulting in the killing or capturing of the animal to sell on the black market.
Poaching for body parts for an increasingly lucrative Asian market is also a threat, with everything from whiskers and tails to internal organs being used for traditional medicinal purposes or simply a status symbol.
Shockingly, there are more captive Tigers in the USA (an estimated 5,000) than make up the entire populations in the wild in Asia. Most of these (95%) are privately owned and kept in unsuitable conditions by owners who have no idea of their needs. The majority of these are bred in captivity, making it impossible to regulate the practice and leaving the animals extremely vulnerable.
Loss of Habitat
The decimation of forests for agriculture, logging and development has seen the big cat lose an astounding 93% of its habitat. The severity of the fragmentation is such that the ‘range’ normally established by the Tiger is reduced to a point where there’s a greater risk of inbreeding (causing genetic anomalies).
Climate change is a global problem that has myriad local effects on the planet’s plants and animals. Just one example of this is in one of the most uniquely adapted populations of the big cat, found in the mangrove forests of Bangladesh and India, in a region known as the Sundarbans. The mangroves are home to an abundance of other wildlife as well, but the rapidly rising levels of the Indian Ocean, caused by climate change, could spell the end to this lush habitat – and the end to one of the world’s largest population of wild Tigers.
Big Cat Conservation: A Global Responsibility
While there are numerous high-profile conservation programmes in action around the world, everyone can play a part. For those planning to venture to the Indian subcontinent on a Tiger safari to see this enigmatic big cat in its natural habitat, helping to raise the profile of its endangered status is just one way to help ensure its survival.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. As a passionate lover of wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led Tiger safari itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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