A century ago, an estimated 100,000 tigers roamed in the earth in the wild. However, in the past seventy years three subspecies of tigers have become extinct, the Bali, Caspian and Javan. There are currently only 3,200-3,500 tigers left, which many expect to become extinct in the near future. In the last ten years alone tiger population numbers have declined forty percent.
Director general of the World Wildlife Fund, James Leape, indicated in 2010 that tigers would likely be extinct by 2022 if nothing was done. Thirteen countries which are home to at least some wild tigers agreed to attempt to double the world’s tiger population by this same year during a recent tiger summit. The countries which still hold small tiger populations include: Russia, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam and Indonesia. Dwindling tiger populations have been the result of poaching and habitat loss.
India is home to the largest number of tigers with a recent census indicating there are approximately 1,706 tigers across seventeen Indian states. India was once home to more than 100,000 tigers, but now their current range has dwindled to just eleven percent of its original size. Poaching and conflicts with farmers continue to be major obstacles in the country for tigers in addition to the habitat destruction.
In July of this year the Indian Supreme Court banned tourism in tiger reserves in order to protect the species. The ban was expected to be temporary in order for the government to assess and determine new methods of handling tourists and the tigers in combination. As of the 16th of this month, tourism is yet again allowed in tiger reserves, however, local governments will be regulating the reserves and tourists.
The new plan allows for tourists in twenty percent of the tiger reserves. In addition, the new regulations forbid any additional tourist locations to be built in the reserves in order to maintain proper control over tourists and lessen impact on the tigers. Hotels and other tourist locations which are in the reserves had suffered from the ban, a ban which some said could actually promote poaching due to the lack of tourists.
The importance of protecting the tiger population has been eloquently stated by Global Tiger Initiative: “Wild tigers are not only a symbol of all that is splendid, mystical and powerful about nature. The loss of tigers and degradation of their ecosystems would inevitably result in a historic, cultural, spiritual, and environmental catastrophe for the tiger range countries.”