After nearing extinction, tiger population is on the rise

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Tiger population on the rise Sumatran tiger and cubs. Photo: Alex Walsh/WWF

For the first time in over a century, the worldwide population of tigers in the wild are on the rise.

According to a report released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the current tiger population stands at 3,890 – a near 22 percent increase from the last substantial survey in 2010 when the population was at an all-time low of 3,200.

2016: Global tiger population in the wild

This 2016 chart from the WWF shows the population of tigers, by sub-species, in the wild. Click image for full-screen view. Courtesy: World Wildlife Fund.

Amur Tiger

Amur Tiger. Photo courtesy: Valery Maleev/WWF

While such an increase may seem dramatic, it is worth noting world tiger population has been on a sharp and dangerous decline since 1900.

In an article for National Geographic, Brian Clark Howard stated the past hundred years has seen the world’s wild tiger population drop from around 100,000 individuals spread over 30 nations during the early 20th century to a mere 3,200, confined to 11 countries by 2010. 

This decrease is almost exclusively attributed to the unbridled growth of poaching in these regions.

Wild tigers now appear in just 7 percent of their former global range, and over the past 80 years, three subspecies – the Javan, Caspian, and Bali tigers – have gone extinct.

In the WWF chart below, you can see the historic territory previously inhabited by tigers (YELLOW) compared to their present range (ORANGE):

Historical map of main tiger habitats

This map reveals how tiger habitats have decreased dramatically over the last century. Courtesy: World Wildlife Fund.

Still, the current increase shows promise that re-population efforts may be having an effect.

In 2010, the WWF began an initiative to double tiger population by 2020. This initiative has included local governments in Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, and Thailand.

One aspect of the WWF initiative has involved “video trapping,” in which thousands of small cameras are placed in tiger habitats to monitor population and activity – both tiger and human. Local wildlife groups regularly monitor these feeds and dispatch teams to intervene against poachers and other threats.

Science Alert has reported that, in addition to monitoring tiger activity, some governments have taken extreme measures to stop poaching in protected habitats. In India, which has seen a 30 percent gain in tiger population, some regions have made it legal to shoot and kill poachers on sight.

There are softer tactics. The WWF has also employed extensive public awareness campaigns informing localities that wildlife tourism can be a major source of income for the community.

The WWF has expressed a cautious optimism that, with continued effort, this reversal in tiger population may become a permanent trend.

There are still any number of milestones to pass. According to their own report, the WWF claims there are more tigers in captivity in the United States alone (zoos and backyards included), than in all natural habitats of the world combined.

Story compiled with information from National Geographic, Science Alert and the World Wildlife Fund.