Causes of the tiger’s decline are depressingly familiar. The culprits are the same old enemies—remorseless poachers and despoilers of the tiger’s habitat—the same ones that are killing off many other species. The poaching of tigers is carried out largely to satisfy a demand for body parts in traditional Chinese medicine that shows no sign of waning.
There will be devastating consequences for tigers globally now that China is lifting the ban on rhino horns and tiger bones for use in traditional Chinese medicine; even though they have no therapeutic value whatsoever. China is creating a huge legal market for poached animal parts. This move could be a death sentence for both rhinos and tigers. It will inevitably stimulate demand and the trafficking of such products. This will also provide ample opportunities for traffickers to launder their poached animal parts.
As a commodity the tiger is shredded with vulture-like efficiency: skin, whiskers, penis, tail, bones and claws are all parceled up for open sale in markets throughout Asia. Weak law enforcement in tiger range countries and consumer countries makes it possible for the killing to continue. Governments are failing to allocate resources where they are needed in wildlife conservation, and there is a lack of concern and effort in saving our tigers.
In a battle between the tigers and large-scale, state sanctioned economic interests, the animal’s fate looks desperately perilous. Whether the tiger can survive the enormous pressures facing it depends on understanding the animal itself. With resentment harboured by many people living in close proximity to the tiger, tigers are often perceived as a murderous pest rather than a treasured asset.
Communities living near tigers need to be given the opportunity to change their attitude toward the animal, and incentives should be given to help fight poaching. If they could be persuaded to view tigers with pride instead of resentment or indifference, they would become participants in the struggle to save them.
What would it take to save the tigers? Tigers need vast areas of territory, and tiger habitats need to be intact with no logging, mining, farming, or large numbers of livestock. They need wide diversity of prey animals and the vegetation to support them. All it takes is political will, at both a national and local level.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia is not exactly optimistic about the tiger’s fate. The tiger has been portrayed as a lost cause and if we cannot save the tiger, what can we save?
S M Mohamed Idris