Statement by IUCN Director General, Inger Andersen, on International Tiger Day.
The tiger – iconic beast of the forest. A symbol of strength, grace and power. The stuff of legend.
It’s inconceivable that this magnificent creature which inspired the awe and wonder of our childhood could be pushed to the brink of extinction.
But indeed it has. Today we mark International Tiger Day – born at an international summit in 2010 that was held in response to the shocking fact that 97% of tigers disappeared during the 20th century with numbers plummeting from about 100,000 to around 3,000 today.
Remaining populations are now isolated and under increasing pressure from poaching for the Asian medicine trade, habitat loss and fragmentation, and the loss of the tiger’s prey species which people hunt for subsistence. As the communities living in and around important tiger habitats continue to grow, so too does the pressure on shrinking forest resources.
As a top predator, the tiger plays an important role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The fate of the tiger is intrinsically linked to the fate of the forests and grasslands it inhabits and in turn, the fate of the people who rely on these resources for their food and livelihood.
Because their food sources are increasingly limited, tigers are forced to prey on livestock, bringing them into conflict with local communities. Attacks on people are on the rise and in many parts of the species’ range, retaliatory tiger killings by enraged communities are becoming more frequent, with the loss of key animals important for breeding and maintaining tiger subpopulations.
Resolving this human-tiger conflict epitomises the challenge of modern-day conservation – how to allow people and wildlife to live side by side, to benefit from each other.
IUCN, with the support of the German Government and in partnership with the German Development Bank KfW, began the Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme in 2014 and the first projects will be launched in the coming days, which will help boost global efforts. These projects will focus on monitoring tiger and prey populations and securing habitat corridors to connect isolated populations, while engaging local communities, in particular indigenous communities, to ensure that the activities are compatible with the sustainable development of these people’s livelihoods. In parallel, we are pleased to see a strong global desire for a continuation of the multi-partner Global Tiger Initiative (GTI). IUCN looks forward to working in close partnership with the GTI and its partners as this moves forward.
We know what is needed to safeguard tiger populations in the long term. It requires conserving and restoring habitats, carefully monitoring populations, and bringing an end to poaching. At the same time, the living conditions of local communities must be improved and they should be given access to alternative sources of livelihood in order to reduce the pressure on forest resources.
The tiger may well be in the spotlight today, but that spotlight must be widened to show the world that by saving this species, we can achieve so much more. We can make the forests of Asia the wild, beautiful and productive places they once were, and by doing so, improve the lives of millions of people.