Tigers (Panthera tigris) could be extinct in less than a decade, if we don’t get our act together. That’s a warning from Howard Jones, the CEO of British wildlife charity Born Free.
"It's unimaginable to think of a world without tigers but unless we act now, the consequences could be dire," Jones told the Mail Online.
He's not the first to make such an unnerving prediction. Tigers have been on the brink of extinction for a while and in 2012, wildlife experts said we could lose these majestic creatures completely (at least in the wild) within just 12 years.
Referencing a figure calculated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Global Tiger Forum in 2016, the charity says there has been a 96 percent drop in tiger numbers over the last 100 years, falling from 100,000 to fewer than 4,000 since the early 21st century.
Sadly, things don't seem to have improved all that much. Decades of poaching, smuggling, and habitat destruction means that tigers alive today occupy just 7 percent of their historical range, an area that once included regions as diverse as Singapore and Turkey.
The IUCN Red List lists tigers as endangered and estimates there are between 2,154 and 3,159 mature individuals in the wild. Compare that to the number of tigers living captive in the US alone, either in zoos or as pets, a number that could be as high as 7,000.
The IUCN says population trends show tiger numbers are decreasing whereas the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) more optimistically describes them as rising. This discrepancy could be the result of the inclusion/exclusion of individuals who have not yet reached maturity or differences in counting methods.
However, a new, more up-to-date and precise evaluation on the number of tigers left in the wild (at least those living in India, home to the vast majority of wild tigers) is due to be published later this month.
Jones' warning may be pretty dire but hope is not lost. Last year, a field study conducted in Nepal found that the number of Bengal tigers living there more than doubled to 235 from 121 in 2009.
Wildlife experts hope that more countries can follow Nepal's lead in order to meet goals set out in the WWF's TX2 program – an ambitious but achievable plan to boost the combined population of all six subspecies to 6,000 by 2022. A year chosen because it just so happens to be the next Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese Zodiac.