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As recently as 50 years ago, eight tiger subspecies roamed throughout Asia.
Now only five remain. Human pressures from hunting and habitat destruction
exterminated the Balinese, Caspian, and Javan tigers in this century. Based
on tiger's reproductive success rate when the animal and its habitat is
left unmolested, the tiger as a species is in its evolutionary prime. (The
same can not be said of the Panda, for example.) Thus, if the tigers were
to disappear, the blame would squarely be place upon the human shoulders.
India, being home to about 60% of the world's wild tiger population, is now the best hope for tiger survival. The Indian tiger is under severe pressure from habitat reduction, hunting of its prey and poaching for Traditional Chinese Medicine. With only 1000-2000 tigers left in severely fractured habitats in India, there is a distinct threat that the wild tiger could collapse into the extinction vortex in the near future and disappear forever.
India has 3% of the earth's landmass and 20% of its human population. In the past, the cultural and spiritual traditions of the Indian faiths revered nature and the sanctity of all life. The maharajahs also set aside large tracts of land as hunting preserves that provided a natural home to tigers and their prey. Along with colonialism came large-scale sport hunting (which stopped in 1972) and combined with poaching for Traditional Chinese Medicine and modern day business and industry, the tiger population has been devastated and their habitat exploited for human needs.
Today there is still a will in the region to save the tiger. Law in India sets tiger habitat aside, and significant financial resources are committed every year by the governments to save the tiger. There are 22 tiger reserves and many more national parks and sanctuaries. However, as India modernizes, the demand for resources is putting even more pressure on the tiger and its prey. There are continual efforts to weaken the laws that protect the small amount of remaining jungles and to exploit them for minerals and other natural resources.
Our focus is on wild tigers and we do not support captive breeding of tigers - they are big cats in cages that would never survive if released into the wild. One of the most fascinating facts about the wild tiger is the extremely close and extended bond between the tigress and her cubs. A tiger learns every survival skill from its mother - which can not happen if they are fed in cages. If we preserve their habitat, they will live. Probably the most important reason for saving the wild tiger is that being at the top of food chain, its survival means the survival of all other species that live in her habitat and preserving the complex relationships within an ecosystem that was created by Nature.
For more information, read The Tiger: Power and Fragility by Dr. Ullas Karanth, a leading India-based tiger scientist and a Conservation Zoologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society of New York. You may also want to read this excellent wild tiger conservation article in the National Geographic.