The tiger is the biggest, the most iconic, and one of the most endangered of all cats. Three of the nine known tiger subspecies are extinct, and a fourth – the South China tiger – hasn’t been seen in the wild since the 1970s.
Tigers used to roam across most of Asia, but now they’re restricted to just 7% of their original range, in isolated forests across 13 countries.
Tigers generally live and hunt alone. Their striped coat helps to camouflage them as they stalk and ambush their prey. Each tiger has a unique set of stripes – this helps us identify individuals in the wild. Unlike many cats, tigers like water and they’re excellent swimmers.
Over the last century wild tiger numbers have plummeted by over 95%. Poaching and habitat destruction are persistent threats, and as few as 3,200 tigers remain in the wild today. Sadly, there are more tigers in captivity in the US than are left in the wild. The tiger is officially classed as endangered by the IUCN.
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Why tigers matter
As top predators, tigers help to keep their habitat healthy by preying on other animals – mainly herbivores, such as deer. Without the tiger, there would be too many herbivores, which would overgraze and degrade habitat, and disrupt the balance of the ‘ecosystem’ – the living (animals and plants) and non-living (e.g. air and water) components of the environment.
For this reason the tiger is important for the well-being of people – who depend on healthy ecosystems for food, water and many other resources – and for the survival of other wildlife, which relies on balanced ecosystems.
By helping to protect the tiger, we’re helping to conserve its habitat for the benefit of both people and nature.
Threats to tigers
Commercial logging, agriculture, development and human settlements all result in tiger habitat being cleared or degraded. Their remaining habitats are shrinking and becoming increasingly fragmented.
Tigers are extremely vulnerable to poaching for the illegal trade in body parts. Their skin, bones, meat and other parts are highly valued – mainly for use in traditional Asian medicine. In India, as many as 50% of tiger deaths in some of the best protected areas are due to poaching.
Animals that tigers prey on are also in decline; as livestock numbers grow there’s less grazing land for animals like deer to feed on. And people also hunt them. Tigers are being increasingly forced to live closer and closer to people, and tigers have been known to sometimes attack people, as well as livestock. In this situation, people become less tolerant of tigers and may kill them in retaliation.
How WWF is helping protect tigers
Doubling their numbers
We’re determined to double the number of wild tigers to at least 6,000 by 2022 – the next Chinese year of the tiger. To achieve this, we’re focusing on conservation in 12 priority landscapes, including areas in Nepal, India and Russia. At the groundbreaking international Tiger Summit, which we helped to organise in 2010, governments from all 13 tiger range countries committed to this aim and created a global plan for tiger recovery.
Reducing human-animal conflict
We’re combating poaching, improving tiger habitat, finding ways to reduce conflict between people and tigers, engaging local communities in conservation – and helping them to use their natural resources sustainably.
Tackling poaching and wildlife crime
We support government officials, enforcement agencies and communities that tackle tiger poaching in various regions.
We also work alongside TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) to investigate and crack down on the illegal trade in tiger products – and to reduce demand, so that this trade will no longer pose a significant threat to tigers.
Success story: Tigers up 60%
A 2013 survey of wild tigers in Nepal found that tiger numbers had increased by more than 60% since 2009. This indicates that our aim to double tiger numbers by 2022 is achievable, and shows that conservation efforts can work.
How you can help protect tigers
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£60 could restore one hectare of grassland to increase numbers of tiger prey in Nepal's Terai Arc
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