BY Katherine Johnson
Since earth was formed 4.6 billion years’ ago billions of plants and animals have gone extinct. However, today’s extinction rates are 1,000-10,000 times higher than what is considered a natural extinction rate. Across the globe species are becoming extinct on a daily basis, in the future 30 to 50 percent of all species could face extinction by mid-century. In order to maintain the biodiversity of our planet and secure a healthy future it is essential to combat these increasing levels. During this day and age almost all of the causes of extinction are prompted by human actions such as climate change, poaching, disease, deforestation and increasing human populations.
While many species are feeling the effects of human-caused extinction one of the species most affected is the tiger.
Since 1900 the global wild tiger population has fallen from 100,000 to a mere 3,000 (Vince 2014, 244). If humans continue living the way they have been then the likely result is a mass extinction of tigers within the next two decades (Vince 2014, 244) Saving endangered species as well as protecting their natural habitats is necessary in assuring the future health and wellbeing of our planet.
For centuries, cultures across the globe have cherished tigers and all that they represent. However, over time consumerism has distracted us humans from the extreme state tigers now reside in. As tiger populations are on the brink of extinction sustainability issues will continue to plague the communities’ tigers reside in as well as the general population.
One of the greatest issues being faced by rapidly decreasing populations is a loss of biodiversity. Currently tigers are at the top of the food chain meaning they play a large role in the life of other flora and fauna. Their place within an ecosystem co-benefits other species; by protecting just one tiger a hundred square kilometers of savannah or forest is conserved for other species to thrive in as well (Vince 2014, 248).
Just as humans are currently facing the effects of climate change so are animals around the world. Rising sea levels due to greenhouse gas emissions threaten the remaining few tiger habitats. One example of this is Sundarbans, this mangrove forest serves as protection from extreme weather and safely guards a large population of Bengal tigers. However, World Wildlife Fund conducted a study showing that by 2070 sea levels could rise by a foot and risk wiping out a majority of the population. The Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh alone represent around 10% of the remaining tiger population. The Sundarbans is just one example of habitat loss that tigers are facing. A majority of habitat loss is due to extremely high populations in countries such as China and India. Logging and agriculture also account for a great deal of habitat loss in predominately rainforest areas.
While environmental issues and concerns are a top priority for declining tiger populations, the largest factor driving this extinction is the billion dollar industries. The main threat tigers are currently facing is poaching or the illegal wildlife trade. This industry is worth nearly $213 billion a year and is linked to a variety of other illegal enterprises that control gun, drug, and human trafficking operations. Every part of the tiger is sold and traded in illegal wildlife markets, a pelt could cost up to $20,000 and “tiger wine” has been known to cost upwards to $30,000.
China accounts for the country with the greatest involvement in the illegal wildlife trade. What is being referenced as the “uber-elite” of China buy products containing tiger parts as a symbol of wealth and class. Some buyers are so extreme they hope tigers become extinct in the near future to raise the value of their products. Many Chinese also believe that certain tiger parts contain medical properties with the ability to cure ailments from insomnia to malaria.
The billion-dollar industry that exploits tigers throughout many Asian countries is the wildlife tourism industry. While this industry creates an array of jobs and allows for small communities to yield higher profits it is still not in the best interest of the tigers. Cubs are often taken from their mother at a young age with their only use being for the entertainment of paying tourists. This industry is most popular and common in India where tourists can snap a selfie with an adorable tiger cub, without being held responsible for what goes on after.
While it may seem that at times all hope is lost there is some surprisingly good news, for the first time in 100 years tiger numbers are on the rise. In the span of only six years numbers have grown from 3,200 to 3,890 tigers currently living in the wild. This is most likely a direct result of an agreement reached between thirteen countries that are thought to house tigers. The agreement states that these thirteen countries will begin helping wild tigers double their populations by the year 2020 (Dybas 2010).
This news provides a sense of hope however, it is imperative that governments, law enforcement, and local communities continue to maintain and work towards reestablishing tigers into the wild. Poaching and environmental concerns are persistent issues that will continue to impact populations despite our efforts. The most important aspect is realizing that it is possible to combat these issues if countries are willing to put in the time and effort to make a difference. While extinction is a naturally occurring process it is not normal and or the time for tigers to become extinct as a result of human behavior.
Dybas, Cheryl Lyn. (2010). The once and future tiger. BioScience 60(11):872-877.
Vince, Gaia. (2014). Adventures in the Anthropocene. Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, MN.
Students in Jess' ENV 151 Introduction to Sustainability write blog posts on a sustainability-related topic of their choice.