Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

The Tiger In 2011: Gasping For Air

The Tiger In 2011: Gasping For Air

January 07, 2011

A fact sheet on the world's favourite animal, disappearing before our eyes.

Name: Tiger

Current population in the wild: ~3,200

Wild population in previous years:

  • c. 1900 – 100,000
  • 1970 – 38,000
  • 1990 – 12,000
  • 2000 – 10,000

Current population in captivity: 11,000


  • World’s Favourite Animal (Animal Planet poll, 2004)
  • Lord of the Jungle (popular legend, though disputed)
  • Chosen from millions of species to be one of only 12 signs of the Zodiac – 2010 was a Year of the Tiger


  • India
  • China
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Russia
  • Small numbers in other Asian countries
  • Zoos & private ownership worldwide
  • (natural areas of habitat have reduced 95% in the past century)

Why threatened:

  • Sought for the colours and design of its fur
  • Various tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine, in which they are believed to be effective as a painkillers and as an aphrodisiac
  • Deforestation of tigers’ natural habitat
  • Over-hunting of their prey
  • The Earth’s human population is steadily increasing, meaning we need more space and are encroaching further into land that tigers used to inhabit

Who is killing it:

  • Poachers and tiger farmers, directly
  • All of us, indirectly

Is it past the tipping point on the road to extinction?:

Almost. But not quite. Previous and ongoing efforts have proved that even with a miniscule population base, a species can re-proliferate.

Current programmes and efforts in and around where tigers live:

  • India: Global Tiger Recovery Programme (GRTP) aimed at bringing together various countries’ recovery programmes under one effort, with political backing; 21st Century Tiger, a collaboration between the Zoological Society of London and Global Tiger Patrol
  • China: Save China’s Tigers, seeking to establish a reserve in China for releasing tigers from captivity
  • Russia: Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Siberian Tiger Project –successful thus far, population raised from 60 in 1992 to 350 today in northeast Russia

How to help:

  • Donate funds to the above and/or one of the many other tiger-focused organisations – WWF is a great place to start
  • Use the Internet to learn more about what is happening
  • Raise awareness among those close to you

Finally, some trivia:

  • For every tiger, there are approximately 500,000 humans
  • There are more copies of Aravind Adiga’s novel ‘The White Tiger’ in circulation than there are actual white tigers on the planet
  • In the seminal 1983 film Scarface, Tony Montana aspires to own a tiger as part of his American Dream; in real life, successful breeding programmes through the decade and ill-defined legislation in the US made this a surprisingly realistic possibility for those with sufficient funds
  • At the present rate of decline, in 2020 – less than ten years from now – a fact sheet such as this could be entirely in the past tense.


  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    09.01.11 05:53 PM
    Thank you all for your comments - and thank you Sourav for pointing out a fact I missed, that the tiger is the national animal of India!

    A friend made the point that there are countless other species that are in a similar or worse position, which is absolutely true and worth keeping in mind. However, the tiger stands out from a human perspective because of this sad irony that it is our most beloved animal and we are most responsible for its drastic decline in numbers.

    A sad and bizarre story I read recently in a book called 'CultureShock! India' told of an intrepid wildlife preserve ranger in Andhra Pradesh who took a group of tourists on a safari around the park's border. When he saw some local villagers infringing on the border, he got out of the jeep and went to rebuke them, eager to protect this land that had been set aside for tigers. All of them - about five or six grown men - turned on him with sticks and beat him brutally; the tourists could only watch in horror as this rough justice was meted out. Afterwards he staggered back to the jeep, battered, bleeding and with a few broken bones.

    The tiger may be the world's favourite animal, but it clearly doesn't fill everyone with delight.
  • NRS
    08.01.11 07:35 PM
    Hi Barnaby

    I had no idea the time line for this potential tragedy was so short.

    It really would be inexcusable if we allow tigers to die out.
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    07.01.11 09:54 PM
    Thanks for the great fact sheet!

    I don’t know why, but we Indians are pretty bad at respecting the values of national significance- may it be our national sport or the national anthem, or the national animal.

    With so little tigers remaining in India, its shocking to read that a century ago there were 40,000 tigers and there has been a decline of 60% in the past decade. Rudyard Kipling’s India was a land of fantasy, which is slowly turning into a nightmare. A country where tiger is the spirit of Indian jungle, the symbol of Indian wilderness is disappearing slowly and steadily.

    Indian and Chinese authorities are being accused of doing almost nothing to stop the rapid decline of tigers. I hope we will succeed in saving our national animal and many other endangered species. Let’s not reach a state where man becomes our national animal. Naah… We don’t deserve that respect!
  • Pulkit
    07.01.11 09:27 PM
    Thanks for this, Barnaby. Many people don't realize the severity of the situation because they are so far removed from it. Yet we are all in some way responsible for pushing the tiger to eventual extinction. Let's hope we all get enough sense to realize how catastrophic that eventuality will be and do something about it.

Leave a comment