For centuries, Earth’s biggest and most incredible cat has captivated humans with its size, beauty and mystery. Unfortunately, in the last century, the population of wild tigers has dwindled at an alarming rate, from 100,000 wild tigers a century ago to as few as 3,200 in 2010. Due to unchecked poaching and the destruction of natural habitats, these magnificent creatures no longer widely roam the Earth.
The Tx2 Initiative
Luckily, in November 2010 thanks to the World Wildlife Fund, the 13 “Tiger Countries” including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Bhutan, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Myanmar, Malaysia, China, and Russia (countries where you can still find wild tigers) stepped up to recover the species through a landmark initiative called Tx2. The goal? To double the global wild tiger population by 2022, the next lunar Year of the Tiger.
Bringing back a species from the brink of extinction is no simple task. Working across governments, communities and habitats, Tx2 became the largest undertaking ever for the conservation of a single species. With a written commitment from the 13 countries, an action plan was laid out to prioritise reservation efforts in each country, crackdown on poachers and provide financial investment in new science and technology, training and local support to aid in maintaining the current tiger population.
But it’s now 2022 and the true test is here: has Tx2 been able to double the global tiger population?
Has Tx2 achieved its goal?
In some ways, while the answer is not entirely positive, it’s also not without some good news. As of 2020, the wild tiger population is increasing in five countries – India, Nepal, Bhutan, Russia, and China – thanks in part to the work of Tx2.
“From an historic population low in 2010, tigers are finally making a remarkable comeback in much of South Asia, Russia and China,” said Stuart Chapman, leader of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative, “And that’s great news for the other threatened species they share their home with, and also the millions of people dependent on these ecosystems.”
Wins and losses
By 2018, Nepal became the first country in the world to double its tiger population from 121 tigers in 2009 to nearly 240 as of November 2021. The Nepali government has its sights set on steadily increasing that number to 250 this year.
In neighbouring India, home to 75% of the world’s tiger population, there have been advances in population increase at specific reserves like the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in northern India, which went from 25 tigers in 2014 to 65 in 2018. In 2020, the Indian government also announced its progress in reaching the Tx2 target, with 2,967 tigers across the country in 2018, up from 1,411 tigers in 2006.
But at the same time, 2021 marked the deadliest year in a decade for the country, with 126 tiger deaths caused in part by human encroachment onto tiger habitats, poachers and human-animal conflict.
In 2010, China had no more than 20 tigers but breeding efforts and the support of the government and local communities seem to be attributable to a slow rise in population, including the rare sighting of a tigress and her cubs, first captured at the Jilin Wangqing Nature Reserve in 2014.
Unfortunately, Southeast Asia remains a troubling place for wild tigers – they are thought to be virtually extinct now in three of the tiger range countries: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. While tigers do exist in these countries, they are generally kept in captivity through private zoos and farms.
The lack of tiger conservation and new breeding has become a shortfall for the Tx2 goal considering the tiger population as of 2021 is now close to 3,900 – quite a bit aways from the goal to globally double the number of wild tigers in 2010, when it was 3,200.
Additionally, the World Wildlife Federation came under scrutiny by the tiger biologists from the Wild Conservation Society who not only seriously doubted the methodologies used to calculate tiger population growth, but the ecological changes that would come about from a vast increase in global tiger numbers.
“Rather than engaging in these tiger number games that distract them from reality, conservationists must now focus on enhancing and expanding recovery and monitoring of source populations,” wrote Dr. K. Ullas Karanth, the former Director of Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia, in 2016 in a statement of concern regarding the WWF’s efforts to create a large campaign around Tx2.
What remains clear is that the preservation of wild tigers faces insurmountable challenges, from rampant poaching to continuous habitat destruction . More than beautiful and magnificent animals, wild tigers contribute in major ways to the greater ecosystem and the diminishment of their species is a detriment to the world at large.
See also: 10 Most Endangered Species in the World
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