Tigers are lethal but threatened with extinction. If you have in mind that at the beginning of the 20th century more than 100,000 tigers roamed the Asian forests, how would it feel to know that nowadays no more than 5,000 are left?
Tajikistan, Mongolia, Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan… just a handful of countries that used to have tigers. But not any more, just like is the case in 15 other countries. Around 1900 tigers lived in 30 countries while now there are only 10 (!) countries left.
But what happened?
The current situation is the result of many different developments. Below you can read about the most important ones.
Hunting to please ego’s
During the period that the British ruled India tens of thousands of tigers were killed by hunters. Not only by the British rulers but also by the Indian maharajahs.
King George V and his hunting squad traveled north to Nepal, murdering 39 tigers in not even two weeks. A certain colonel Nightingale killed more than 300 tigers in India. Umed Singh II, the Maharaja of Kotah, went on killing tigers with a flaming red Rolls Royce Phantom in the Rajastani hills, with spotlights for night hunting, a mounted machine gun and even a cannon. The Maharaja of Udaipur and Raja of Gauripur shot 500 tigers each, the Nawab of Tonk 600, Ramanuj Saran Singh Deo of Sarguja 1,100 tigers, and Colonel Kesri Singh of Jaipur 1,000. It is already crazy to think about killing one tiger, let alone more than 1,000. Just to show off to your friends or your occupiers.
Historian Mahesh Rangarajan says that “over 80,000 tigers…were slaughtered in 50 years from 1875 to 1925. It is possible that this was only a fraction of the numbers actually slain.”
Tigers as a pest
History shows a couple examples of rulers that treated tigers as a pest, that needed to be removed. The first major example has to do with the extinction of the Caspian tiger, which roamed especially in the countries around the Caspian sea. Around the Caspian sea many former Soviet republics needed to develop their agriculture, as part of the Soviet strategy to have state and collective farms. But one thing was bothering: the presence of tigers kept farmers only in safe areas. Expansion was delayed too much so the rulers decided to give bonuses for killing tigers. The result was that the Caspian tiger disappeared from many countries, like Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. And disappeared at was officially declared extinct.
The second example has to do with Mao Zedong, who did a bit of the same as the Soviet rulers. He declared the South China tiger as a pest, with the result that around 4,000 South China tigers were killed – also with the help of foreign bounty hunters, like William Lord Smith. And that the South China tiger can now only be seen in captivity. Or in a valley in South Africa.
TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicines
Talking about Mao, the most horrible thing he did for tigers was in fact a last resort for Chinese humans. At a certain time Maos ‘great leap forward’ wasn’t working at all and China was suffering from a massive famine, one in which tens of millions of Chinese humans died. Mao didn’t know what to do because all medical people in the country were busy trying to save lives. The result was that he ordered to collect all folk solutions for diseases. This was not only gathered, it was published as well. A new ‘red book’ was provided throughout China, which was called: Traditional Chinese Medicines. TCM became institutionalised.
Animals played a large part in the TCM-guidelines as in the old days, without any scientific knowledge, influential people, like elders, medicine men and chieftains, believed that once you kill an animal it would do you good. In the old days animals brought warmth (the skin as protection) and food (the meat as a nutritious meal). So it’s no surprise that bears and tigers became the top-wanted animals in the TCM-guidelines.
Although the results of massively using animals as a cure the great famine kept on spreading. The consequence was that almost all wildlife vanished from the Chinese forests. Another consequence was that the Chinese mafia took control. They realised that with such a big demand and so little supply they could make fortunes. This was the moment that international wildlife crime was born.
TCM as an important cause for wildlife crime.
Within years the Chinese mafia took control of the forests in the countries surrounding China. Tigers and other wildlife started vanishing in Russia, South and North Korea, Mongolia, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Cambodia and Thailand. Trade routes were designed to bring the ‘stuff’ to China and smuggle chains were introduced.
Within one decade the situation became too fragile. The UN tried to stop it and introduced the first programs to limit the trade in endangered species. CITES was introduced, but it took too long to stop the real massacres.
Because of the growing demand for tigers from the Chinese market the Chinese mafia not only went abroad. Why go abroad when you can manufacture the goods in your own country? So they introduced tiger farming. The first tiger farm was introduced with the help of WCS and WWF, probably not realising that the Chinese mafia was behind it.
The existence of tiger farms created a new supply. Thousands of tigers could be distributed to the Chinese market to meet the demand. But the presence of new supply only created more demand, which is a logical economic principle. Another economic principle is that some people only want to have the ‘real deal’. Rich Chinese businessmen or high ranked military leaders didn’t want a tiger farm tiger, they wanted a tiger from the wild. This fueled the demand for tigers from the wild even more.
At a certain point in time CITES demanded that the tiger farms should be phased out, because of the harming effect on tigers in the wild. But up until now China refused to take action.
More than 15 tiger farms throughout China are now still operating. The estimations of the numbers of tigers existing on these farms differ from 5,000 to 15,000. Tigers that live in piteous conditions.
Agriculture is needed to provide the more than 7,7 billion people on this earth. But agriculture destroyed so much nature, which is the reason why many experts say that we simply have too much people living on this earth.
The demand for oil has grown in the last 5 decades, because of the exploded human population. At the start of the UN in 1945 there were appr. 1,65 billion people, which has now quadruppled in only 75 years. The demand for palm oil exploded even more because it is a necessary ingredient for many products. Not only for cooking, but it is also in chocolate, pet food and shampoos, to name only a few.
Malaysia and Indonesia provided the land to grow palm trees. But in return Malaysia and Indonesia helped to destroy millions of square kilometers of tropical rain forest. Loggers profited, just like plantation owners. Also the governments profited because more tax money was coming in and less people needed support of the government.
Nature suffered. Many species got extinct and even more species became (critically) endangered, like the Malayan and the Sumatran tiger.
The world suffers too. Destroying trees means also destroying storage room for carbon, the number one element for the current increasing global climate change.
Actually, what is said about palm oil can be said about mining too. Buut mining is needed to provide the more luxury products for people, like cars, bikes, stereos and kitchen machinery.
Last but certainly not least. A subject that is being used by NGOs to engage more donors: poaching. Poaching is killing an animal in an illegal way. There has to be a law to be broken. This is why the massacres by the English rulers of India and the Indian maharajahs were called ‘hunting’ in stead of poaching: no law was broken at those times.
Now there are criminal syndicates. They work all over the world as wildlife crime has expanded exponentially. The lower the supply, with an increasing demand and thus with increasing, even skyrocketing prices. No country is safe, but the countries that have the weakest governing structure (like dictatorships, countries with civil wars) are the most vulnerable.
Poaching does not only occur organised. Many tigers are poached by locals. This is a complicate situation.
To simplify matters: too many people means that more houses are build. Many people are poor so they want to live near forests so they can hunt and get honey and other things from the forests. This means that animals get already less habitat but due to more competition (with humans) also less chance to find proper prey. Many people that are poor have a cow or a goat for milk, which is a relatively cheap investment for a family. The cattle often eats outside the village, in areas where there is grass. Sometimes it is even in protected areas. This means that tigers, by nature lazy animals, often eat cows or sheep. When this happens, the farmer or the villagers want to protect other cattle. So they put a lot of poison in the dead animal, knowing the tiger will come back. And when it does, it literally eats itself to death.