One of the largest land-dwelling predators on Earth, tigers need large forest and grassland habitats to survive, as well as abundant prey. As a result of habitat loss, poaching, and other factors, tiger populations have decreased dramatically in the last century, and likely number fewer than 3,500 today. The tiger is considered an endangered species.
Native to Asia, the tiger is the largest of all living cat, or felid, species. Historically, tigers were classified as nine subspecies. However, these classifications were recently divided into two tiger subspecies (Panthera tigris tigris and Panterha tigris sondaica). Read more about the change here: http://www.catsg.org/index.php?id=635
Habitat loss is one of the main reasons for the decline in tiger populations. An estimated 40% of tiger habitat was lost just between 1995-2005. It is estimated that tigers now occur in less than 7% of their original range. Fragmentation of tiger habitat also causes tiger populations to become isolated and more vulnerable. Major causes of habitat loss and fragmentation include logging, resource extraction, human settlement, and conversion of forests to agricultural areas, including monocultures (areas with only one crop planted) such as oil palms.
Poaching of tigers for the illegal trade in tiger bones, skins, and other body parts is a major threat to the tiger’s survival. Domestic markets for tiger products have been found in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Viet Nam. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) makes international trade in tiger parts illegal, but substantial cross-border smuggling of tiger parts still occurs. Tigers also get caught in poachers’ snares. Even when these snares are meant for other species, they can still maim or kill tigers.
Tigers exist at low population densities and require vast stretches of forest and abundant prey animals such as wild deer and pig. It has been estimated that a single tiger may kill 50 large ungulates (hooved animals) per year for food. Maintaining adequate prey bases, including reducing threats to prey species, is important for sustaining viable tiger populations, particularly in small reserves.
Tigers and humans have a long history of conflict. Tigers have killed livestock and people in places where humans live near the tiger’s dwindling natural habitat. Tiger-human conflict tends to reduce support for tiger conservation measures in communities neighboring tiger habitat, and human retaliation for tiger attacks has killed countless numbers of wild tigers. Understanding and preventing tiger-human conflict is an important component of tiger conservation efforts.
With the multitude of threats facing tigers, relatively little surveillance has been done on the threat of disease. Recently, though, multiple Amur tigers in the Russian Far East were found to be infected with canine distemper virus. This virus has resulted in fatal epidemics in other cat species such as lions. There is concern that infectious diseases such as canine distemper virus may be a larger threat to Amur tigers and potentially other tiger subspecies than previously recognized. Little is known about the sources of these diseases and how to best prevent these diseases from impacting tiger populations.