Tigers, found in 13 Asian countries, are threatened with extinction largely due to consumer demand for their skins, bones, and other body parts, and the trafficking of live animals. In the last century alone, 97 percent of wild tiger populations have disappeared and fewer than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™ lists the tiger as Endangered, with Malayan and Sumatran tigers classified as Critically Endangered.
“These majestic animals are thought to occupy less than seven percent of their original range and are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, poaching, and conflict with people. Wildlife trafficking continues to haunt this species, making tigers one of the most threatened victims of illegal wildlife trade,” said Sara Walker, senior advisor on wildlife trafficking at the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA), a program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). “Tigers are among the most beloved and iconic of the big cats. Therefore, it’s shocking when people learn that three subspecies of tiger are already extinct and that three subspecies—Amur, Sumatran, and Malayan tigers—each have fewer than 500 individuals in the wild.”
Tigers are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as an Appendix-I species, meaning international trade of live animals or their parts is prohibited. CITES looks to ensure that the international trade in wildlife does not threaten its survival. In the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) implements CITES. Tigers are also listed under the Endangered Species Act, adding another layer of protection.
In the U.S.— despite the protections that exist—private ownership of tigers, lions, and other big cats as vanity pets or for commercial exploitation in poorly run facilities is a serious animal welfare problem. Unscientific and unethical breeding leads to an untraceable population of big cats that presents animal welfare and conservation issues as well as a danger to the public and first responders. Netflix’s high-profile Tiger King series entertained and horrified, but only provided a glimpse into a much larger problem.
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The Wildlife Trafficking Alliance is a coalition of more than 80 leading companies, non-profit organizations, and AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums working together to reduce the purchase and sale of illegal wildlife and wildlife products.
AZA supports passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act which would strengthen existing law to prohibit the possession of tigers, lions, and other big cat species except by qualified entities, such as AZA-accredited facilities.
The AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan® has developed the Tiger Conservation Campaign. This campaign encourages AZA-accredited facilities to contribute to a selection of six tiger conservation efforts in the range states of Amur, Malayan, and Sumatran tigers.
Wildlife law enforcement can involve the seizure, confiscation, and holding of an array of species, which comes with a unique set of challenges. To meet those challenges, AZA, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, and the USFWS organized the Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network.
A strategic priority of the network is to provide better support for law enforcement, including species identification, medical triage, and both short and long-term holding for confiscated wildlife.
“The Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, AZA-accredited members, and partners are doing a lot of work to help tigers, both here in the U.S. and in range countries,” said Walker. “There are actions that people can take today that will have a meaningful impact as we work to save tigers from extinction.”