What's Decimating Tigers--And How to Bring Them Back
May 30, 2017
May 30, 2017
Recently, our Communications staff sat down with Dr. John Goodrich, the Senior Director of Panthera’s Tiger Program and one of the world’s premier experts on tigers, to discuss the biggest threats facing the endangered species today. Read on to find out why it’s in our best interest to protect this majestic wild cat.
No one’s in a better position to understand the plight of wild tigers across the globe. What has caused the horrific decimation of tigers?
Direct poaching of tigers and the poaching or overhunting of their prey are the greatest threats today. That there are, by some estimates, a million square kilometers of vacant tiger habitat in the world is perhaps the greatest testament to the severity of the poaching problem. The forests are there, but have been decimated of tigers and their prey.
Loss of habitat is also a critical threat. Tigers live in some of the most densely human-populated areas in the world, and there is intense competition for space. Habitat is lost through conversion of forest lands to industrial agriculture—especially oil palm—and by encroachment of local communities on forested lands.
There’s an insatiable demand for ‘tiger products,’ particularly in Asia. How can something so deeply ingrained in a culture be eradicated?
While it may be possible to eliminate demand for black-market tiger products, it will require social change reversing thousands of years of tradition—at least in the case of the use of tiger products in traditional Chinese medicine. Such social change takes time, but tigers are rapidly disappearing. This is why Panthera’s Tiger Program focuses on the supply part of the equation—if we do not do all we can to immediately protect the few remaining tigers left in the wild, all will be lost before changes in demand take place. We focus on addressing critical threats to wild tigers on the ground.
This primarily means protecting tigers from poaching. How does it work?
We have hired a cadre of law enforcement specialists, and we help to train and equip elite ranger teams throughout the tiger’s range with cutting-edge technologies like our PoacherCam to catch and stop poachers. We help ranger teams in protected areas gather and analyze intelligence critical to taking down local poachers and traders. We have also recently begun working to train judiciary to better understand wildlife laws and the importance of wildlife crime to improve prosecution and conviction rates.
How can Tigers Forever increase tiger numbers?
In practice, it can be incredibly complex, but we know we can save tigers if we maintain a razor-sharp focus on the best tiger sites in the world, as well as the critical threats facing tigers at those sites. Some of the 42 sites large enough to protect viable populations are already well protected, and tiger numbers have recovered. If we can lock down the remaining sites to protect them from poaching and habitat loss, tiger numbers there will burgeon, spilling over into the larger landscapes.
What do we, the human race, stand to lose if wild tigers are lost forever?
Tigers are one of the most magnificent and iconic animals on the planet. They are worshipped by many, and appear on flags, money, and brands of some of the world’s largest companies. They are perceived as symbols of power, beauty, and grace. To lose that—and at our own hand—would be one of the greatest tragedies to befall mankind.
From a more practical perspective, healthy, viable tiger populations require large, intact forest ecosystems. Thus, by protecting tigers, one of the planet’s apex predators, we are coincidentally protecting all species that depend on the same ecosystems. Further, those forest ecosystems are critical to sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, thereby slowing climate change. By protecting tigers, we are protecting ourselves.
How can Panthera supporters help save tigers?
Educate yourselves and become involved. Visiting our website is a great first step. Be outspoken about your conservation concerns in public forums, and encourage your government to fight illegal wildlife trade and tiger farms—and, if you live in a tiger range state, to directly protect tigers. Last, the majority of funds for tiger conservation come from philanthropy, and many NGOs like Panthera are run almost entirely on philanthropy, so your donations are critical to our success.
From 1995-2008, Dr. Goodrich worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the Russian Far East running the Siberian Tiger Project, the longest-running radio-tracking project on wild tigers. Dr. Goodrich runs Panthera’s Tigers Forever program, which aims to boost tiger numbers at sites across Asia by at least 50 percent over a 10-year period. There are currently fewer than 4,000 left in the wild.