International Tiger Day 2021 – a race against time

Panthera tigris, or as we know them, tigers, are the largest living species of cats on the planet, but size isn’t a guarantee of safety in the animal kingdom.

Tigers inhabit a curious place in the world: as the largest species of cat in the world, humans fear them for their claws, their sharp teeth and the vibrant colours of their fur. Despite this perception of being deadly to humans, however, it’s actually the wrong way of looking at the story. The human population is booming, and tigers are, in fact, one of the most endangered species on the planet.

Save the tiger

This International Tiger Day, you will be surprised to learn that the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimates as few as around 3,900 tigers are left in the wild as of 2021. By comparison, there are over 7.8 billion humans alive today, so we outnumber our feline friends by a staggering scale, but yet the fear of these big cats persists.

Unlike lions, tigers prefer to live a fairly solitary yet social life, prowling alone in a way that often leads them to wander straight into human hands. Tigers are naturally curious and unlikely to attack unless provoked, but unfortunately due to habitat destruction, more of them are straying into urban areas, quite simply because they have few other places to roam and hunt.

For the first time after decades of constant decline, tiger numbers are on the rise. This offers us great hope and shows that we can save species and their habitats when governments, local communities and conservationists work together

– Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International

India is now considered the home for most of the world’s remaining tigers, but these cats used to be far more numerous and widespread, inhabiting much of south east Asia historically, before the rise of humans. With numbers so low, it’s enough for the tiger to be placed on the Endangered category of animals according to the IUCN Red List.

Return of the big cats

The typical Brit has a life expectancy of roughly 81 years, and a generation time of 25 to 30 years, meaning we have a lot of time on our hands to grow up, mature and have children before the ageing process begins. Tigers are less fortunate, with a lifespan of about 8-10 years in the wild, and an accelerated life cycle. Within a decade, one generation is already fading, and the next set of cubs must come of age and keep the species going.

Having a population smaller than the capacity of a football stadium might make conservation sound like an uphill struggle, but by countries joining together in a common effort, it is becoming possible to keep an eye on these beautiful animals, banning the trade of any products related to their fur or other body parts, or even just the sale of tigers themselves.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has been instrumental in uniting India and its immediate neighbours in a common cause. This international governance network is intended to help stamp out the illegal trade of tigers and tiger derivatives, but poaching remains a pressing issue which continues to this day.

There is a ray of light for the tiger, amidst all the seemingly downbeat statistics. The WWF’s latest figures suggest the tiger population is growing again at long last, having risen from 3,200 in 2010 to the aforementioned figure close to 3,900 in recent times. If this is the start of an upward trend, the tiger could make a long-awaited recovery afterall. If you’re concerned about the plight of the tiger this International Tiger Day, organisations such as the WWF can help offer ways for you to directly support tigers through the work they do internationally. As we have shown, size can be a smokescreen, and even the largest cats can often require help from us.

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