GLAND, Switzerland, July 29, 2015 (ENS) – Today is Global Tiger Day, and across the world people are pausing to recognize that 97 percent of all wild tigers disappeared during the 20th century, when numbers dropped from about 100,000 in 1913 to roughly 3,000 today.

The tiger, Panthera tigris, is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The last global estimate in 2010 put numbers at 3,200. Today wild tiger numbers are unknown, although all tiger countries have committed to issuing a new global tiger figure in 2016.

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Tiger numbers continue to fall. More tigers live in captivity than in the wild, like this one in Germany’s Frankfurt Zoo. (Photo by Moni Sertel)

IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said today, “Remaining populations are now isolated and under increasing pressure from poaching for the Asian medicine trade, habitat loss and fragmentation, and the loss of the tiger’s prey species which people hunt for subsistence. As the communities living in and around important tiger habitats continue to grow, so too does the pressure on shrinking forest resources.”

“Because their food sources are increasingly limited, tigers are forced to prey on livestock, bringing them into conflict with local communities,” Andersen explained. “Attacks on people are on the rise and in many parts of the species’ range, retaliatory tiger killings by enraged communities are becoming more frequent, with the loss of key animals important for breeding and maintaining tiger subpopulations.”

“Resolving this human-tiger conflict epitomizes the challenge of modern-day conservation,” said Andersen, “how to allow people and wildlife to live side by side, to benefit from each other. ”

IUCN, with the support of the German Government and in partnership with the German Development Bank KfW, began the Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme in 2014 and the first projects will be launched in the coming days, to help boost global efforts.

These projects will focus on monitoring tiger and prey populations and securing habitat corridors to connect isolated populations. Projects will engage local communities, especially indigenous communities, to ensure that the activities are compatible with the sustainable development of their livelihoods.

To keep tigers from disappearing into extinction, countries where wild tigers live are counting their animals.

Today, Bhutan announced that it is inhabited by 103 tigers, an increase over the previous estimate of 75. Bhutan’s first national tiger survey puts the mountainous Asian country on the list of countries the conservation group WWF calls “tiger champions,” along with Nepal, India, Russia and Bangladesh.

“The roaring success of Bhutan’s first ever nationwide survey gifts us a rare look into the lives of the magnificent tigers roaming across the entire country,” said Dechen Dorji, WWF Bhutan Country Representative. “This is an incredible achievement with great teamwork and leadership from the Royal Government of Bhutan.”

Bhutan’s tiger count comes days after Bangladesh released numbers from its first national tiger survey, which counted 106 wild tigers, a lower figure than the previous estimate.

WWF says national tiger surveys are a crucial step in the goal to double wild tiger numbers by 2022, but warns that Southeast Asia is facing a crisis, and tigers could go extinct across the region.

Even so, many Southeast Asian countries are still not conducting surveys.

“There is a tiger crisis in Southeast Asia. Countries are not counting their tigers and are at risk of losing them if immediate action isn’t taken,” said Mike Baltzer, WWF Tigers Alive Initiative Leader. “Political support is weaker and resources are fewer, while poaching and habitat loss are at critical levels. Until countries know the reality on the ground they can’t take the appropriate action to protect their tigers.”

This year, experts from Malaysia suggested that tiger numbers there have fallen from their previous estimate of 500 in 2010 to as few as 250 individuals.

There are thought to be no breeding populations of tigers in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, and tiger numbers are unknown for Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

“WWF is calling on all Southeast Asian tiger countries to count their tigers and on the global tiger conservation community to focus efforts in these critical Southeast Asian countries,” continued Baltzer.

WWF sees reasons to hope for better information soon. Thailand’s government is meeting to assess the status of the country’s wild tigers, the Malaysian government recently announced its intention to conduct the first national tiger survey, and the Cambodian government is discussing the reintroduction of tigers, with WWF’s support.

In some countries tiger numbers are increasing, says WWF. In January, India released its latest tiger census results showing an increase to 2,226 from 1,706 in 2010. In May, Russia’s latest survey found as many as 540 tigers, while Nepal’s last survey in 2013 found that tigers had increased from 155 in 2008 to 198. There are positive indications of tigers settling and breeding in northeastern China.

IUCN’s Andersen said, “We know what is needed to safeguard tiger populations in the long term. It requires conserving and restoring habitats, carefully monitoring populations, and bringing an end to poaching. At the same time, the living conditions of local communities must be improved and they should be given access to alternative sources of livelihood in order to reduce the pressure on forest resources.”

“The tiger may well be in the spotlight today, but that spotlight must be widened to show the world that by saving this species, we can achieve so much more,” said Andersen. “We can make the forests of Asia the wild, beautiful and productive places they once were, and by doing so, improve the lives of millions of people.”

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