Once abundant throughout Asia, numbers of wild Tigers Panthera tigris declined dramatically during the last century-from around 100,000 individuals to an estimated 3,200 today.
The loss was caused by a combination of habitat loss and degradation, human encroachment, and excessive poaching, both of key prey species and of Tigers themselves for the illegal trade in Tiger parts.
Only six out of nine Tiger sub-species still exist: Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), Indochinese Tiger (P. t. corbetti), Malayan Tiger (P. t. jacksoni), Sumatran Tiger (P. t. sumatrae), Siberian Tiger (P. t. altaica) and South China Tiger (P. t. amoyensis).
The Sumatran and South China Tigers are listed as "Critically Endangered" in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, although the latter is possibly already extinct in the wild. The remaining subspecies are all "Endangered."
The three extinct sub-species are: Balinese Tiger (P. t. balica), extinct 1937; Caspian Tiger (P. t. virgata), extinct 1950s; and Javan Tiger (P. t. sondaica), extinct 1979.
Wild Tigers nowadays occur in 13 countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Viet Nam.
More than half of the world's wild Tigers occur in India (mid-value 1,706 at the last Indian Tiger census in 2011).
Around 70% of wild Tigers live in just 42 small, fragmented and often isolated landscapes.
Tigers are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means all international trade in Tigers, including their parts and derivatives, for commercial purposes is prohibited.
Use of Tiger parts
Tigers are symbolic of power, strength, courage and luck and their parts believed by many to have powerful medicinal properties.
Tiger parts have been used in traditional Asian medicine for over 1,500 years to treat a wide variety of ailments including: rheumatism, leprosy, cataracts, toothache, various skin diseases, muscle aches and malaria.
There remains a strong cultural confidence in their efficacy despite a lack of scientific evidence confirming their medicinal value.
Tiger skins are used as trophies and garments, their bones are used in traditional Asian medicine and in tonics and folk remedies, their meat is also eaten and their teeth are sold as curios.
Demand centred in Asia
Tiger poaching is often carried out by professionals, with demand is driven by middle-class and wealthy consumers, mostly in Asia.
Tiger parts are illegally sold in Tiger range countries of East and South-east Asia, sometimes openly, such as in Indonesia and Myanmar, as well as in countries including the Republic of Korea, Singapore and the USA.
Reduced to skin and bones
A TRAFFIC report, "Reduced to skin and bones: An analysis of Tiger seizures from 11 Tiger range countries" was published in November 2010.
It analyses data on Tiger seizures from 11 of the 13 Tiger range countries over a 10 year period, from January 2000-30 April 2010.
These data have been adapted and included in the Tiger tracker.
Note: Not all Tiger seizures that took place between 2000 and 2010 are represented here. Only those from Tiger range countries are included. Seizures are incomplete for some of these countries, and no data were recorded from Cambodia or Bhutan.
TRAFFIC is updating the seizures included in the Tiger tracker and will begin compiling data on seizures outside the Tiger range countries.
Sources of information
The data were compiled from various sources, including: the Governments of India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Myanmar; WWF Nepal and WWF-US; TRAFFIC offices in India, China, the Russian Far East and South-east Asia; MYCAT Malaysia; WCS Indonesia Programme and open sources such as the Internet and other media.
Analysis of seizure data
For each seizure, estimates were made of the minimum and maximum number of Tigers involved.
Total estimated Tigers seized, and percentage of total Tigers seized by each country, January 2000-April 2010
|Country||Seizures||% of seizures||Min. # Tigers||Max. #Tigers|
481 seizures were recorded between January 2000 and April 2010, representing between 1,069 and 1,220 individual Tigers killed for their parts and derivatives.
The majority of seizures took place in India (276, some 57.4% of all seizures), China (40; 8.3%), Nepal (39; 8.1%), Indonesia (36; 7.5%), and Viet Nam (28; 5.8%).
The numbers of seizures do not necessarily reflect the levels of trade.
Low numbers of seizures could indicate low levels of illegal trade or poor enforcement. Myanmar reported only one seizure over the 10 years, yet frequent market surveys by TRAFFIC indicate that Myanmar is a major trade hub for Tiger trade passing from South and Southeast Asia through Myanmar to China.
A TRAFFIC film, 'Closing a Deadly Gateway', gives a shocking insight into the Tiger trade in Myanmar.
The high number of seizures in India reflects the country's relatively large remaining wild Tiger population (mid-value 1706 at the last census in 2011).
Tiger parts in trade
Parts seized were most commonly skins (480), bones and skeletons (total weight 1253.53 kg), dead whole Tigers (197) and claws (1313).
Skins dominated in India and Nepal and were relatively frequent in China, Russia and Indonesia.
Bones and skeletons were frequent in seizures in China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Russia and Nepal.
Claws are most often found in India and Malaysia.
Many seizures in Viet Nam and Thailand were of whole dead Tigers; these are also relatively frequent in China, Russia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Tiger items present (percentage) in seizures per country, 2000-2010
Tiger trade routes
Plotted seizures highlight the Tiger trade hot spots.
Most seizures are concentrated in and around Tiger Conservation Landscapes, especially in India, but also in Sumatra, a major source for Tigers in trade.
Key trade hubs include the cities of New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Kathmandu, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok and border towns such as Ruili in Yunnan Province, China.
The concentrations of seizures at e.g. the Myanmar-China and India-Nepal borders illustrate the need for enforcement at country borders. Cross-border wilderness areas with low enforcement levels are frequently used by traffickers.
Seizures in China were scattered, which could indicate a widespread market for Tiger parts and derivatives.
The seizures confirm existing knowledge of various international Tiger trade routes:
- India to China via Nepal through Bihar, a State in eastern India bordering Nepal, and Birganj, the border town in southern Nepal closest to Kathmandu;
- India to Myanmar via Moreh in Manipur;
- Malaysia to Thailand via the Thai border town of Sungai Golok;
- Myanmar to China through the Sino-Myanmar border and Ruili, a town on the south-west border of China in south-western Yunnan Province (Dehong Prefecture); and
- Russian Far East to China via Ussuriysk, Region of Primorsky.
However, no seizures were reported from well-known wildlife markets in Myanmar, such as Mong La on the Myanmar-China border or Tachilek on the Myanmar-Thailand border, nor from Betong, the border town between Thailand and Malaysia, which is a known smuggling hub for Tiger and other wildlife from Malaysia's forests.
Sea, air, rail, road and post are all used to transport Tiger and other illegal wildlife goods.
Areas with a history of conflict and insurgency, such as in parts of Myanmar bordering China and in India bordering Nepal, also greatly facilitate illegal trade.
Broad, S. and Damania, R. (2009). Competing demands: Understanding and addressing the socioeconomic forces that work for and against tiger conservation. A background paper from the Kathmandu Global Tiger Workshop. Global Tiger Initiative. http://cites.org/common/cop/15/inf/E15i-46.pdf.
Banks, D. and Newman, J. (2004). The Tiger Skin Trail. Environmental Investigation Agency, UK.
Cameron, A., Banks, D. and Gosling, J. (2009). Saving the wild tiger: Enforcement, tiger trade and free market folly. An EIA discussion document. Environmental Investigation Agency, UK.
Dinerstein, E., Loucks, C., Wikramamamayake, E., Ginsberg, J., Sanderson, E., Seidensticker, J., Forrest, J., Bryja, G., Heydlauff, A., Klenzendorf, S., Leimgruber, P., Mills, J., O'Brien, T., Shrestha, M., Simons, R., Songer, M. (2007). The fate of wild Tigers. BioScience 57(6): 508–514.
IUCN (2010). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2010.1. http://www.iucnredlist.org.
Mills, J. and Jackson, P. (1994). Killed for a Cure: a Review of the Worldwide Trade in Tiger Bone. A TRAFFIC Network Report. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.
Ng, J. and Nemora (2007). Tiger Trade Revisited in Sumatra, Indonesia. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
Nowell, K. (2000). Far From a Cure: The Tiger Trade Revisited. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.
Nowell, K. and Xu, L. (2007). Taming the Tiger Trade: China's Markets for Wild and Captive Tiger Products since the 1993 Domestic Trade Ban. TRAFFIC East Asia, Hong Kong, China.
Oswell, A H. (2010). The Big Cat Trade in Myanmar and Thailand. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
Shepherd, C. R. and Magnus, N. (2004). Nowhere to Hide: The Trade in Sumatran Tiger. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
Shepherd, C. R. and Nijman, V. (2008). The Wild Cat Trade in Myanmar. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
TRAFFIC (2008). What's Driving the Wildlife Trade? A Review of Expert Opinion on Economic and Social Drivers of the Wildlife Trade and Trade Control Efforts in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam. East Asia and Pacific Region Sustainable Development Discussion Papers. East Asia and Pacific Region Sustainable Development Department, World Bank, Washington DC, USA.
UNODC (2010). The Globalization of Crime: A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna
Verheij, P.M., Foley, K.E. and Engel, K. (2010). Reduced to Skin and Bones. An Analysis of Tiger Seizures from 11 Tiger Range Countries (2000-2010). TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.
Walston, J., Karanth, K.U. and Stokes, E.J. (2010). Avoiding the Unthinkable: What Will it Cost to Prevent Tigers Becoming Extinct in the Wild? Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, USA.
www.globaltiger.org (Global Tiger Forum)
TRAFFIC's work on Tiger trade
TRAFFIC, working closely with WWF in the Tigers Alive Initiative, is scaling up efforts to eliminate trafficking in Tiger parts and derivatives. The goal is to ensure that by 2022, this illegal trade is at negligible levels and no longer a threat to wild Tiger populations.
Eliminating the illegal Tiger trade must be tackled through a combination of interventions aimed at different target groups and stakeholders. These interventions are focused on:
- Trade research: Gathering information on illegal trade that links poaching of Tigers to the trade chain that supplies end-use markets, and using this information to help target interventions by government agencies.
- Law enforcement support: Working with enforcement agencies, prosecutors and the judiciary, through staff training, capacity building etc., to ensure effective, intelligence-led law enforcement, prosecution and sentencing.
- Advocacy: Influencing policy makers to bring about strong policies and legislation protecting the Tiger, and the allocation of adequate resources to allow for effective implementation.
Contact Pauline Verheij, WWF and TRAFFIC Tiger Trade Lead Pauline.email@example.com
WWF's Tigers Alive Initiative
In response to the crisis the Tiger is facing, WWF has launched the Tigers Alive Initiative, a global programme to stem the tiger’s decline. The Tigers Alive Initiative works with partners, governments and civil society to realize its overarching goal to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. This strategy has three main objectives:
- Protect tigers, their prey and habitat: aiming to ensure that by 2022, the 12 WWF priority tiger landscapes are effectively managed through better enforcement, sound monitoring and adequate financing
- Eliminate the illegal tiger trade: aiming to significantly reduce trafficking of Tiger parts and derivatives to negligible levels by 2022, so that this trade no longer threatens the survival of wild Tiger populations
- Increase political will, commitment and funding: aiming to secure and maintain strong political and institutional support for wild Tiger conservation from now until 2022 and beyond.
For more information on the Tigers Alive Initiative, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/tigers/
Wildlife Trade Tracker, LEMIS Tracker and Tiger Tracker are the initiative of TRAFFIC North America (Regional Director Crawford Allan Crawford.email@example.com) and an independent consultant, Daniel Brizuela (http://www.antares-productions.com/). Thanks go to Jill Hepp for early project management.