Barely 100 years ago, tigers roamed an expansive territory ranging from Siberia to the southern islands of Indonesia. Now, there are only a few scattered regions which they call home. From a peak population of over 100,000 tigers, the population dropped precipitously to just 3,200 in 2010. Their lack of a future seemed assured until the 2010 Global Tiger Initiative met in Russia.
In the realm of animal conservation, it often seems there is nothing but bleak news. This year, however, mankind’s efforts at preventing a sixth ‘great extinction’ have shown promise: for the first time in over 100 years, the world’s tiger population has increased.
The Global Tiger Initiative is a group of 13 countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam) and 40 NGO’s working cooperatively to reverse the constant decline of tiger populations. In 2010, the member countries met and declared they would do everything within their power to double the number of tigers worldwide by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger in the Chinese zodiac.
After six years, their efforts are already resulting in major changes. The population decline of tigers has been reversed. From a population of 3,200 in 2010, tiger numbers have rebounded to more than 3,890 in 2016. This is achieved through dual initiatives of guaranteeing tigers’ natural habitats and strict border protection against poachers. India has created vast nature reserves throughout its rural countryside – often moving entire villages to minimize human exposure. These reserves are staffed by government employees and have been increasingly heavily guarded in response to the rising demand for tiger parts used in traditional Chinese medicine. Nevertheless, the reserves are working, and India’s tiger population has nearly doubled from 1,411 in 2006 to 2,226 in 2014.
Half of the time has elapsed, and the tiger population is still a far cry from the GTI’s 2022 goal. However, achieving a population increase is a significant accomplishment and a turning point in tiger conservation. As the numbers rebound, the tigers range should also begin to expand close to its previous spread. The exact numbers worldwide are impossible to determine, but the trend is clear. The hope now is that this trend will continue not only for tigers, but for the great number of other endangered species.