It seems almost impossible to believe, but we are already two weeks into 2016. Our Tigers for Tigers students are beginning to return to their classes as the Spring semester gets underway.
We are excited to increase our efforts to protect our tiger mascot, who needs our help more than ever. Before we can begin to help, it is important to understand the current status of tigers in the wild and identify the major threats to their survival: habitat loss, poaching, loss of prey species, human-tiger conflicts, and disease.
Current Status of Wild Tigers
There are an estimated 3200 tigers remaining in the wild. Last year India completed their latest countrywide census of tigers, and reported the population has increased from around 1700 individuals to approximately 2200 individuals, albeit amid skepticism from the scientific community on the accuracy of the census. Despite this good news, other populations of tigers are still decreasing across Asia and 3200 remains the estimate for the total wild tiger population.
Tigers occupy an incredibly diverse range of habitats including the temperate (and for much of the year snowy) forests of the Russian Far East, the jungles of Southeast Asia, and even the massive mangrove swamp forests known as the Sundarbans in Bangladesh and India.
Given the chance, tigers can make just about anywhere home. They simply need to be left alone with enough space to thrive.
Driven by demand for their parts and derivatives in China and Southeast Asia, tiger poaching threatens all subspecies of tigers. Their bones are used to manufacture a highly coveted wine that functions as a status symbol for Asia’s wealthy upper class. Their pelts are used as decorations and their meat is considered a delicacy. To satisfy this demand, tiger breeding centers, “or farms,” are springing up across Asia ostensibly to help with conservation efforts, although mounting evidence shows this is simply false.
While most Asian countries prohibit trade in tiger parts, widespread corruption, legal loopholes, and weak enforcement of the law all facilitate a black market tiger trade.
Loss of Prey Species
Unfortunately, tigers are not the only victims of poaching. Important tiger prey species like deer and pigs are often poached and overhunted leading to devastating consequences for tigers. An inadequate supply of food forces tigers to increase their range when searching for a meal. These tigers often wind up in areas populated by people, which contributes to our next tiger threat: human-wildlife conflict.
As the human population continues to increase, people encroach farther into historic tiger habitat. This close proximity inevitably leads to conflicts, which almost never end well for the people or the tiger. These conflicts can lead to revenge killings and result in negative attitudes toward tigers that hinder future conservation efforts.
In the Russian Far East, Tigers for Tigers has been working with the Refuge Association to bring together wildlife managers from the U.S. and Russia in order to exchange strategies and best practices on building community support for critical conservation protected areas.
The closer tigers live to human settlements, the more susceptible they become to lethal diseases that can swiftly wipe out an entire tiger population in a park or protected area. Clemson Tigers for Tigers’ advisor, Dr. David Tonkyn, has a graduate student currently researching the role stray dogs in central India play in transmitting canine distemper to wild Bengal tigers.
How You Can Help
While tigers are faced with many threats across their entire range, we have the ability to take action and ensure our wild mascot continues to survive in the wild.
As students, faculty, alumni, and fans of tiger mascot schools across the country, we represent a powerful constituency with the potential to have huge impacts for tiger conservation. By urging our Congressional leaders to support programs like the Multinational Species Conservation Funds, which put millions of dollars toward critical tiger conservation projects each year, and to pass anti-poaching legislation like the END Wildlife Trafficking Act (S. 2385) the United States will set a global example for tiger conservation efforts.
As with any issue, it is impossible to make a difference if no one knows about the problem. Raising awareness about the plight of our mascot is extremely important to protecting tigers in the wild. Awareness initiatives like the recent #ProtectOurMascot social media campaign or our annual Tiger Awareness Week reach millions of people each year.
And finally, you can continue to support Tigers for Tigers as ignite the passion of students and fans across the country to protect our mascot! GO TIGERS!