At the National Tigers for Tigers Coalition office, we dream of forests, swamps and tundra where wild tigers are free to roam without fear of falling victim to the violent greed of poachers. We dream of a world as it once was, where less than a century ago, more than 100,000 wild tigers prowled across Asia. Unfortunately, so long as tiger parts remain profitable on the black market, this is a dream that will never again be realized.
Today, less than 3,200 tigers are estimated to remain in the wild. It’s a number that signals a grim reality for the species – and one that leads us to ask #WhereRtheTigers?
The last remaining wild tigers are spread out across only 7% of their former territory. Large-scale farmers, timber industry workers and developers continue to ravage native tiger habitats in Asia at a breakneck pace, and as a result, most of these tigers are unable to find enough food to feed themselves or their cubs. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that the world’s forests are lost “at a rate of as many as 36 football fields every minute.”
But even the wild tigers that can manage to sustain themselves face a far more severe threat – their skin, bones, teeth, claws and whiskers are all highly-prized on the black market, and despite international efforts at regulation, poachers can fetch as much as $50,000 from the parts of a single tiger. And with each successful sale, demand for these parts only grows.
The crisis is by no means beyond our reach as Americans. Sporting one of the largest captive tiger populations in the world, with most outside of zoos and dedicated research facilities, the United States is surprisingly lax when it comes to regulating tigers as pets. In many states, buying a tiger from a breeder is easier than adopting a dog from a shelter, and some don’t even require those who buy tigers to notify local authorities or neighbors! For the estimated 5,000 tigers forced into private ownership, a lack of attention by the US government often means a life of insufficient care, or even death on the black market.
A worse fate still for these captive tigers can be found across Asia, in commercial “tiger farms” that are still allowed to operate legally by the Chinese and other governments. Despite a 1993 ban on the trade and use of tiger parts in China and an international ban on the tiger trade in 1987, there is a growing demand for tiger parts and derived products among Chinese elite as a status of wealth and influence. In the past decade alone, the World Wildlife Fund reports that over 1,000 tigers, many from such tiger farms, have been killed solely to meet the consistently high demand of Asian consumers.
Renowned tiger expert J.A. Mills describes in her recent book The Blood of the Tiger, an estimated 6,000 tigers are bred for their parts like cattle on such farms, and hesitation to confront the Chinese government for these atrocities allows them to operate without interference.
So, #WhereRtheTigers? They are forced into the shadows to escape poachers, exiled from their historical range. They are being sold off in small parts through illegal markets the world over. They are languishing in our own backyards, longing for support. They are hidden away on tiger farms, where they are treated as a commodity. They are dying by the thousands, and if nothing changes, they soon won’t be anywhere at all.
Today, the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, concluded a trip to Vietnam where she met with government officials to discuss how the US government and the Vietnamese government can work together to put an end to the illegal wildlife trade. Her next stop is China, where she will have similar discussions with top officials of the country that ranks #1 in the world for the illegal wildlife trade.
We have a dream of helping tigers, and we know you do too. But if we are to progress, we need to raise awareness, pressure governments and the international community to regulate the treatment of tigers, and show poachers, wildlife traffickers and tiger farm operators that their business will not be tolerated. Please join us in spreading our #WhereRtheTigers campaign on your favorite social media outlet, and stay with us for continuing updates on our cause.
Stay tuned for our upcoming Global Tiger Day campaign on July 29th, 2015 and ask yourself: #WhereRtheTigers?
National T4T Coalition Staff
A special thanks to Justin Jacques, Communications Intern from the National Wildlife Refuge Association for crafting this piece.