They have lost nearly 90 percent of their wild habitat. They have been placed on every "near extinction" list in the world. They have become a symbol of mankind's overreach in the wild. Yet somehow, the number of wild tigers continues to decline at an alarming rate, reports Traffic International, a British non-profit wildlife trade monitoring agency.
In a newly released report detailing the illicit trade of tiger parts, Traffic says that parts of at least 1,069 tigers have been seized in the last decade in countries were tigers roam wild, making for an average of more than 100 killed each year. Considering the number of tigers poached is probably far higher than the number officially reported, and with only an estimated 3,200 tigers remaining in the wild, the outlook for the future of the species is grim.
Of the 11 countries studied in the report, India, China and Nepal ranked highest in the number of tiger part seizures, with India by far the highest number of tiger part seizures at 276, representing between 469 and 533 tigers. China, with 40, had the second highest number of seizures, or 116-124 tigers, and Nepal reported 39 seizures, or 113-130 tigers, according to the report.
"Given half the world's tigers live in India, it's no real surprise the country has the highest number of seizures, and while a high number of seizures could indicate high levels of trade or effective enforcement work, or a combination of both, it does highlight the nation's tigers are facing severe poaching pressure," said Pauline Verheij, joint TRAFFIC and WWF Tiger Trade Programme Manager and an author of the report. "With parts of potentially more than 100 wild tigers actually seized each year, one can only speculate what the true numbers of animals are being plundered."
Tiger parts are used by a variety of cultures for decoration, in traditional medicines and even as good luck charms. Their widespread popularity has overwhelmed efforts to portray the illicit dealing of them as bad for everyone.
"Clearly enforcement efforts to date are either ineffective or an insufficient deterrent," said Mike Baltzer, leader of WWF's Tigers Alive initiative. "Not only must the risk of getting caught increase significantly, but seizures and arrests must also be followed up by swift prosecution and adequate sentencing, reflecting the seriousness of crimes against tigers."
The report comes as heads of governments from tiger range states prepare to meet at a tiger summit later this month in St. Petersburg, Russia to finalize the Global Tiger Recovery Program, a plan that aims to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. It will include a major enforcement push by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), which comprises CITES, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will host the International Tiger Forum from 21-24 November and representatives from all 13 tiger range countries are expected to attend.