10 February 2013


The Veolia Environment Wildlife Photography Competition is almost 50 years old. Co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide, it hosts different awards, The Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species amongst them. I felt like choosing this years’ award, Runner-up by Steven Winter, to illustrate the situation of endangered tigers.

Having a look at his website, I see that Steve’s series on tigers illustrate in a very good manner the essentials of this issue, including the illegal trade of tiger skins.

Even more recently, the 2012 Rolex Award for Enterprise was granted to Sergei Bereznuk, a Russian conservationist and ecologist, Director of the Phoenix Fund, an NGO whose mission is to conserve the fauna and flora of the Russian Far East. The money of the award will be devoted to the continuation of educational projects in support of the conservation of the Amur Tiger.

These two prizes have inspired me to devote the first series of posts to these magnificent animals.

What is their conservation status?

To answer this question I have reviewed data found mainly in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, documents produced by Traffic, WWF, Panthera, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the CITES Convention (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). I have noted that the majority of websites consulted also from other sources, like NGOs or Foundations, refer to the very same number: worldwide tiger population = 3200.

The tiger or Panthera Tigris has 9 subspecies: the Amur (Siberian), the Bengal, the Indochinese, the Malayan, the South-China, the Sumatran, the Bali, the Caspian and the Javan. A good description of each species has been done by Tigers in Crisis, an initiative of Craig Kasnoff. Many photos are to be found in the Cal Photo data base.

The geographical distribution can easily be induced by the name of the subspecies: from central and southwest Asian to the Indonesian archipielago passing through large areas in South East and Eastern Asia. A Tiger ranger map may be found in the WWF website devoted to wildlife trade.

Out of these 9 subespecies, the last three are considered to be extinct respectively since 1937, 1968 and 1980. The other six have long been considered endangered species according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This list appears to be the most comprehensive tool on the conservation status of plant and animal species since 1994. It seems that the list is updated regularly, thus for more exhaustive information it is recommended to visit the website of the List. I particularly found very helpful the WWF chart.

The species is also included in Appendix I of the CITES Convention. This basically means that the species is threatened with extinction. The import/export of any tiger, dead or alive, including spare parts and derivatives is only permitted in exceptional circumstances, and commercial trade is not one of them. In the last 5 years only 6 tigers have been legally exported from Uzbekistan for captive breeding purposes. In the future there will be a dedicated post on the functioning of CITES, the international agreement setting the framework for the trade in endangered species of wildlife and flora with the aim to ensure their survival.

Estimates of the Tiger populations in protected source sites total 2,154 Tigers (Walston et al. 2010). Always following this source that can be found as a reference in different publications, the range goes from 17 tigers in Laos to 970 in India. Over the last 20 years there has been a reduction in population of around 50% (Dinerstein et al. 2007, Walston et al. 2010) and it seems that the decreasing trend will continue in the future. 

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