Not so brightly anymore. This Chinese Year of the Tiger could be the last which sees tigers living freely in the wild, according to an article by Bill Marsh in today's NYTimes. The GLOBAL wild tiger population has fallen below 3000 -- less than 3 percent of what it was just one hundred years ago. Further, as Marsh notes, "their range has been reduced to small patches, isolating many of the animals in genetically impoverished groups of dozens of cats or fewer." (see map at bottom, click on image to enlarge)
The loss of habitat for large predators (the tiger is the largest of the Big Cats, with male Siberian tigers reaching 800 lb. in weight and 12 feet in length) is critical. So is persistent poaching for tiger skins, "medicinal" body parts, and game trophies. Where a few African governments have finally come around to militantly protecting endangered species (including lions), Asian governments seem content to turn a blind eye to the loss of the tiger from our planet.
Protecting the most promising populations and fighting poachers are the two most pressing needs, according to Alan Rabinowitz of Pantera, a Big Cat conservation group. Any regular reader of this journal will know that I agree -- though I would take a much more severe approach to both poaching and habitat encroachment -- summary execution of the perpetrators, without benefit of appeal. As noted in my 26 February post, large contiguous tracts of wild habitat are crucial for the protection of wild populations, both predators and prey, especially for those species which are endangered or threatened. Extinction is forever. To lose these magnificent, iconic cats because not enough people cared, would be heart-breaking beyond words.