Good or bad year for the Chinese tiger?

14 February 2010

Today is the start of the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese New Year, and the South China tiger is the Natural History Museum's Species of the day.

People will be celebrating this special day in the Chinese calendar, but will this be a good or bad year for the world's largest cats?

5 subspecies

There are 5 surviving subspecies of tigers in the world including the South China tiger. However, this subspecies is feared extinct in the wild as no official or scientist has seen it since the 1970s.

The South China tiger, Panthera tigris amoyensis, is one of the smallest subspecies. Once widespread throughout China, it is now thought to exist in only 3 isolated areas and it is classed as critically endangered on the 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species list.

Tigers worldwide

Worldwide tiger populations are struggling and have almost halved to around 3,200 since the last Year of the Tiger in 1998. And a recent WWF report says that the tigers of the Greater Mekong (in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam) may be on the brink of extinction as their numbers in the wild have fallen from 1,200 to 350 during the same period.

Cooperation

Experts are starting to work together to find solutions. The first Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation met in Thailand earlier this month, and they set goals to double the wild tiger population by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022. And in September this year, Russia will host the first Tiger Summit.

Causes of decline

In the past, tigers have often been treated as pests and have been persecuted. They are still illegally killed today for their skins and for tiger parts used in some medicines. Other human pressures are degradation and fragmentation of the tigers' habitat and disappearance of their prey.

As well as tackling the causes of the tiger decline mentioned above, governments and conservation groups will be looking at other options such as tiger-friendly forestry management and even tiger eco-tourism.

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