As the curtain closes on Year of the Tiger it brings us to a natural point of reflection on what was accomplished in 2022 to help ensure the future of this iconic species. So let’s look at the top wins for tiger conservation in 2022.
- Nepal tripled their tiger population
Nepal was home to 121 tigers in 2010, the same year that it and 12 other tiger range countries agreed to double the big cat’s global population by 2022. Since then, Nepal has nearly tripled that figure and is now home to 355 tigers. This population increase gives hope this success can be replicated across the species range. Read our latest blog from the team in Nepal.
- US agrees to phase out private ownership of big cats
President Joe Biden signed a bill to phase out private ownership of big cats. The Big Cat Public Safety Act largely limits ownership of the animals to zoos, universities, and sanctuaries.
- New tiger count shows first potential climb in the species’ numbers in decades.
In a watershed moment in the history of the species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a new assessment suggesting a potential 40% growth in tiger numbers. From 3,200 in 2015 to 4,500 in 2022, this increase would signify the first growth in wild tiger numbers in decades, despite extreme threats. *
Whats next in 2023?
Let us put this victory into context. Tigers are still classified as ‘endangered.’ They have lost 93% of their range, and their numbers still fall woefully behind the 100,000 wild tigers who roamed the continent of Asia a century ago. Poaching, habitat destruction and conflict with people still threaten this species and success is not universal across the countries they inhabit. Below we have listed some key focus areas which require attention in 2023 and beyond.
- Success is not universal
While the new data released in 2022 suggests the first potential climb in tiger numbers in decades the progress is uneven. Increases in tiger populations have been seen across India, Nepal, and Russia but populations in Southeast Asia have crashed dramatically. Over the past 25 years, tigers have become extinct in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam and there have also been significant declines in Malaysia, Myanmar, and even Thailand. This worrying downward trend has been felt across mainland Southeast Asia due to snaring, habitat loss, illegal logging, agriculture expansion, and poaching for the illegal trade in tiger parts. But it does not have to be this way. We have seen success stories this year which have shown that by putting the right measures in place we can begin to recover the populations of these beautiful big cats. What Nepal, India, and Russia have achieved can act as a blueprint to reverse the decline of tiger numbers in mainland Southeast Asia, but it requires urgent action and political will.
- Tiger trade
Since 1975, under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) the international commercial trade of tigers has been banned. However, the extent to which CITES has a say in what countries do domestically has been a controversial topic. For example, tiger farms and the domestic trade of captive-bred tiger skins are still licensed in China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and South Africa. The farms come in many forms, from small backyard holding facilities to battery farming-style undertakings which hold thousands of tigers. Not only are these farms an animal welfare catastrophe but they also legitimise the use of tiger products and ensure there is a market for a product that has no clear legal source. The farms have also not relieved poaching pressure on wild tigers, instead contributing to wiping out tiger populations in Cambodia, Lao, and Vietnam since 2010. To put the growth of wild tiger numbers into perspective, there are still around 4,000 more captive tigers in tiger farms than there are in the wild across Asia.
China, one of the primary consumers of tiger products, has demonstrated that they have the capacity and willingness to conduct sophisticated investigations into the illegal trade which is very encouraging. However, the parallel legal and illegal trades and markets of tiger products in China undermines their own enforcement. We need to see strong leadership from China and a commitment to ending all trade. Instead, during the recent CITES CoP19, China asked to reverse the CITES decision (14.69), which states tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives. Thankfully, there was no support in the room for this, however, countries continue to challenge the authority of CITES to be able to influence their actions within their own border,s and CITES cannot intervene with this sovereign right.
The elimination of the use of tiger products requires real buy-in from all stakeholders, especially the government where there is a demand for that product. Without measures like a clear and unambiguous domestic ban, enforcement to properly back up those bans, and demand reduction campaigns, the poaching, farming, and consumption of tigers will persist.
You can find out more about tiger farms in our Pawcast episode ‘How are tigers being reduced to just skin and bone?’.
Our hopes for the future:
- A complete phasing out of all tiger farms
- The development of effective legislation to combat wildlife crime, resources allocated to enforce this, and appropriate criminal justice responses applied across all countries
- The prioritisation of wildlife crime alongside other international crimes by ALL countries
- A set of indicators created to effectively assess the parties of CITES in their response to wildlife crime to enable accountability
*Urging cautious optimism, scientists suggest advances in counting tigers may explain the possible increases.