Tigers are the largest big cats in the world and, without a doubt, some of the most beautiful animals to ever live. It’s an apex predator and spends its days solo, hunting through varying landscapes all over the world. Unfortunately, these amazing creatures are endangered, with some sub-species being close to extinction. Let’s take a look at these true Kings of the Jungle and learn: how many tigers are left in the world?
How many tigers are left in the world?
There are about 13,000 tigers left in the world. Unfortunately most live in captivity. There are around 5,000 tigers left in the wild, but they’re spread out from India, to Russia, down to Southeast Asia. Let’s take a look and see how the different populations are doing.
As it stands, captive tigers are significantly more numerous than their wild counterparts. This is primarily due to their use in zoos and theme parks, but there is also a smaller subset of people who keep them as exotic pets. Captive tigers (specifically those kept outside of a professional zoo setting) are often farmed for tourists. The practice is frowned upon by conservationists worldwide, particularly when tiger cubs are bred simply for the photo opportunity they provide. These tourist locations usually can’t properly deal with dozens of large cats that have since grown out of their “profitability” period as cubs. The older tigers are then relegated to living their lives behind bars, often in less than ideal conditions.
The United States is the world leader for captive tiger populations, with an estimated 5,000 cats kept in captivity. Worldwide, there are an estimated 8,000 tigers kept in captivity. Since many states in the US don’t have laws against keeping big cats, they are even kept in backyards and homes as pets.
Wild numbers are a little harder to estimate, but there is some good data that can help us, although the numbers span 2014 all the way through 2019. There are an estimated 5,000 wild tigers left in the world. The largest population of wild tigers is far and away found in India. As of 2019, India is calculated to be home to up to 3,346 tigers, but that number is always changing.
Project Tiger is one of the largest conservation programs in India and is dedicated to monitoring and helping wild tiger populations across the country. As of 2020, the numbers have been successfully stabilized, and things are looking positive for native Indian tiger populations. This is the most recent report for the metrics, habitat info, and all the data for the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority). It’s worth a read for anyone wanting more detailed information or just beautiful imagery alongside important data.
Where do tigers live?
Tigers usually live in forested habitats but can live in swamps, grasslands, and rain forests. The wild population (all subspecies) originally ranged from modern-day Turkey to the coast of the Sea of Japan (on the eastern coast of China), and as far north as Russia and as far south as Bali and Indonesia. Today, however, they only inhabit 6% of that land.
The Siberian tiger is the largest of all subspecies. There are about 550 in the wild, and most of them live in the Russian east, with a few ranging into China and North Korea. These remote tigers live in the snowy taiga and boreal forests.
Bengal tigers (or Indian tigers) are the most numerous of all tiger species. Bengals make up the large numbers found across India, with around 3,500 wild specimens in the country. These tigers are famous for their occasional white coloration that occurs when two parents carry the recessive gene, although it rarely happens.
The South China tiger is a critically endangered species that lives in central and eastern China. There were 4,000 tigers 40 years ago, but the government declared them pests, and they nearly went extinct. There are still tiny populations remaining in the wild, but they are rare and considered functionally extinct.
Malayan tigers and Indo-Chinese tigers were only recently considered separate species. There was an estimated 1,000 individuals in 1998, but recent numbers are harder to come by. They live in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Sumatran tigers are only found in Sumatra and are critically endangered. They have the darkest coat among the species and are the smallest of all tigers. There are around 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.
Why are tigers endangered?
Tigers are endangered (with some subspecies being critically endangered) for a few reasons. Their initial decline was so sharp in fact, that the current guesses show that tiger populations declined by 95% since the beginning of the 20th century. Poaching and habitat destruction were the chief reasons that the decline was so sharp.
Poaching is common as certain markets value tiger fur, bones, and exotic body parts used in medicine. These medicines don’t work, however, but the market still has demand even today. In China, for example, the South China tiger was pushed to functional extinction when the government declared them pests and wholesale slaughter happened across the country.
Aside from poachers and hunters, habitat loss is the other reason. Tigers generally need 10-15 square miles of territory in the wild to patrol and feed. Less than this, and it’s likely they will starve. As forest biomes are destroyed for lumber, space, and other resources, tigers lose their homes.
What can we do to help tigers?
There are a few things that everyday people can do to help tigers across the world. The reality of how many tigers are left in the world often spurs many to the action! The Wildlife Conservation Society has a few key tips when it comes to helping wild tigers.
The goals are to protect their habitat, increase their ranges, and reduce human-tiger interactions. This can be done through more scientific research, voting for better policies (like ones allowing pet tigers to be kept in the US), and gathering more data.
For non-researchers, donations and political awareness are the best places to start. The WCS combats many of these issues, but there are many others. Just make sure you do your research beforehand to ensure your donation is accomplishing the correct things.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Byrdyak
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