The 29th of July marks International Tiger Day this year, a day to celebrate these majestic striped cats. Did you know that an adult male tiger can weigh up to 363kg? That makes them the biggest cats in the world! They are usually solitary hunters and are excellent swimmers. Another amazing fact is that a tiger’s stripes are like the fingerprints on your hand – no two tigers have the same stripe pattern.
Tigers have been around since the dawn of time. Scientists have found tiger bones in China dating back to 2.15-2.55 million years old. This Longdan Tiger was unearthed in 2004 but scientists are still hoping to find fossils of even older specimens. While China used to have the most number of tigers, it now has one of the fewest compared to the 12 other countries that wild tigers still call home. Five different species of tiger still exist today, the Bengal, South China, Indochinese, Sumatran and Siberian, while sadly, three subspecies of tiger have already become extinct – the Caspian, Balinese and Javan.
Tigers are poached and killed for their body parts, skin and teeth. Mother tigers are killed so that their cubs can be taken away and sold as pets. Tiger bones are also used to make herbal tonics and even wine. Tiger skins can fetch up to USD$700, 000 apiece and this price will just increase as the numbers of tigers decrease and the pelts become rarer thus, more profitable. There are only an estimated 4000 wild tigers left in the world at the moment, an incredible drop from 40,000 recorded just 40 years ago. Even this low number is rapidly decreasing as at least 100 tigers are left dead annually. Laws do exist to protect these majestic creatures. However, enforcement is weak. Corruption, greed and the decimation of the tiger’s territory are leading to their eventual demise. Even here, in Singapore, there have been 8 recorded cases of trading of tiger parts illegally.
It is not all doom and gloom though. There has been a surge in tiger populations in India due to diligent conservation efforts undertaken by the government and nature-loving citizens. The population has increased by more than 500 tigers in just few years. Hopefully, with more education, tiger populations across the world will start to see similar encouraging changes.
This International Tiger Day, spare a thought for our feline friends. With conservation efforts, harsher laws against poachers and an educated public, we can help make sure that the tigers stay free in the wild. Remember, when the buying stops, the killing can too!