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Critters » Tigers: The Situation

Tigers: The Situation

Chances of tigers surviving in the wild were shaky in the last decades of the 20th century. However, there's still hope the world's dwindling tiger population can be rescued from the brink of extinction as the 21st century opens.

The problem: since 1900 the habitat and total numbers of tigers in the world have declined by 95 percent, according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF) data. In 1900 there were an estimated 100,000 tigers living in forests. By 1999 the number had shrunk to an estimated 5,000 to 7,200 tigers in the wild. In the past 50 years alone, three species -- the Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers -- have gone extinct. This is mainly due to illegal poaching in tiger reserves. In addition, the South China or Amoy tiger is virtually extinct in the wild, although recent reports detail possible traces of it in the Guangxi province of China. Long a key ingredient to many traditional medicine preparations in China, Korea, Taiwan and other southeast Asian countries, tiger bone and derivatives are in short supply. TCM practitioners use preparations with tiger materials to treat inflammatory disorders such as arthritis and rheumatism. The number of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners and users has been growing exponentially worldwide and the demand for illegal tiger ingredients has skyrocketed.

Added to the poaching problem are those of deforestation and general habitat destruction, caused by exploding population growth in the world's last tiger ranges. Destruction of habitat reduces the amount of prey species available for tigers to feed on and increases conflicts arising from interactions with livestock and humans.

But help is on the way -- through a partnership formed in 1998 between the WWF and the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) to educate practitioners of TCM and their customers on wildlife conservation and to introduce alternatives to tiger bone and derivatives. Success in educational efforts depends on the participation of TCM experts to persuade other TCM practitioners and their customers that other products are effective and that continued use of tiger bone preparations will guarantee extinction for the world's remaining wild tiger populations.

Through focused education programs like these and with the help of tougher enforcement, use of tiger bone and derivatives has actually dropped since 1998; however, tiger poaching has not decreased. A new report from TRAFFIC, jointly funded by WWF, details an alarming trend: trade in tiger skins, teeth and claws has stepped up as use of tiger parts in TCM has declined. The threat to tiger survival cannot be overestimated. For example, 66 Sumatran tigers, representing 20 percent of the wild Sumatran tiger population, have been killed in the past two years alone. Perhaps most troubling of all, markets in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar blatantly flout national and international conventions banning trade in tiger parts.

Part of an educational pilot program launched in the San Francisco TCM community by WWF and ACTCM during the 1998 Year of the Tiger included a tiger painting competition for Chinese schools and Chinese art schools. Help save the worlds' tigers by sharing these amazing entries to the painting contest with a friend! E-Cards will donate all revenues generated from our tiger cards to the WWFs tiger conservation program.

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