The iconic black and orange stripes of the world’s largest cat species have become so imprinted on our imaginations, that their beautiful pattern has been used to sell gas, cereal, and to represent strength, speed, and “our wild side”. The tiger is one of the world’s only striped animal species. Variations in stripe colors range from white to brown and orange interspersed with black. This natural camouflage allows them to be robust predators of deer and bovine creatures. Interestingly, even if shaved, the stripes would still be visible on the skin of the tiger.
It is a solitary animal that will also live in hoards. This dichotomy has worked because of the very expansive swaths of land that were traditionally roamed by these stealthy hunters. At one time, this mighty feline could be found across all of the Asian territories. Sadly, 93% of the area once dominated by the tiger has been lost. What used to be a connected space occupied by this dynamic cat, is now split into isolated, small tracks of terrain.
Of the ten documented subspecies of tiger, only six are still alive, and all are classified as endangered. The Trinil subspecies has been extinct since prehistoric times. The Bali, Caspian, and the Javan tiger have all become extinct in the last 80 years. The Bengal, Indochinese, Malayan, Siberian, South China, and Sumatran cats are all considered endangered. It was estimated that there were only 3,200 tigers left in the world in 2010.
Humans Compete with the Tiger for Land
It is an unfortunate coincidence that the homelands of this striped carnivore happen to be some of the most populous locales on our planet. As humans are always building and encroaching upon grounds once held by the tiger, both species face new challenges.
With their once generous and sprawling grounds fragmented, the cat is forced into a smaller space with new circumstances. The cat that has been cut off from regular prey consumes domesticated animals belonging to local farmers and ranchers.
The tiger faces real threats of being killed or injured by landowners attempting to defend their animals from attack. The agricultural growth in these regions also brings deforestation because it removes the natural cover and habitat of these large cats.
Climate Change Poses Threats to Tiger Habitats
Rising sea levels, a global warming effect, threatens the forests the tiger calls home. Without these coastal forests, the animal’s camouflage ceases to provide protection, and they are left vulnerable.
While the cat is highly adaptable, changes caused by global warming are rapidly outpacing the feline’s ability to adapt. The mangrove forest of the Bengal subspecies has joined the sea ice Arctic habitat of the polar bear as the global habitats most profoundly affected by climate change.
Illegal Poaching and the Black Market Take a Toll
The stunning fur that makes the tiger one of the most recognizable cats also, tragically, makes it a target for profit-seeking hunters and poachers. The pelt of this impressive creature is desired for ornamental decoration and as a status symbol.
The skin of the animal fetches a high price as practitioners of traditional medicine use it as a cure for fevers believed to be caused by the spirits of the dead. Despite laws protecting the tiger population from illegal hunting, countries often have severely limited budgets for enforcing them, and thus fight a losing battle against the black market.
If a female cat is poached, she may leave orphaned offspring behind that will be vulnerable to attacks by man or other predators. Likewise, her death is another blow to a dwindling species gene pool and means one less potential mother to a new generation that would replenish the shrinking tiger numbers.
A poached male leaves his status in the area behind, creating a potential competition for dominance among the other masculine cats of the region. His death also diminishes the species gene pool. Poaching in China and Indochina has become so pervasive that thousands of acres of previously inhabited forest lie empty of tiger inhabitants.
Plans to Save the Tiger
Legislation and action around the globe to control and lower greenhouse gas emissions are necessary to preserve and reinstate sustainable rangeland for the remaining tiger subspecies.
On the local level, legislators and public planners must take steps to maintain and improve areas where the cats can live today. Actions must be taken to replenish these areas and deliver fresh water to the depleted regions. Passing laws which penalize poachers and those who trade products made from skins and furs of these felines are essential to preserving the species.
So, what can you do to help? Greenhouse gasses and climate change are key contributors to the endangerment of the tiger. Making small, simple changes to daily habits can make a difference. Here are some ideas:
- Take a shower rather than a bath whenever possible and shorten the amount of water you use;
- Purchase “green power” to support renewable energy;
- Walk, skate, and bike rather than driving;
- Plant trees and plants. Trees have an amazing ability to absorb carbon dioxide and help reduce greenhouse gasses;
- Weatherproof your home to lower the energy needed to heat and cool your home;
- Turn off appliances when not in use;
- Reuse and recycle plastics, paper products, glass, and cans;
- Start a compost pile in your yard;
- Support organizations who advocate for sanctuary and positive legislation for the tiger population;
- Share the information you have learned with others. The more people learn about it and understand the plight of the tiger, the louder the voices asking for change will become.