Saving endangered species is what many of us learned is the
keystone of wildlife conservation. But endangered species
cannot survive in the wild without preserving the habitats
that support them, with fresh water, food, and enough space to
support a population free from human interference.
For tigers, this basically means large forests with enough
prey and enough space to allow genetic diversity among
resident tigers. Tiger habitats have been shrinking at an
alarming pace since the middle of the last century. Human
population growth has divided historical tiger territories and
has crept even into lands specifically set aside for tigers.
This has resulted in geographically isolated areas where
tigers can support themselves without conflict with their
human neighbors. And because the territories are so isolated
from one another, the gene pools are becoming more and more
constricted, which weakens each separate population. Young
tigers who set out to establish territories and find mates
often are killed when they go forth - killed by trains, on
highways, or shot because people don't like tigers wandering
through their villages. At the same time people venture into
tiger preserves for firewood or to graze their domestic
animals, or to illegally hunt the animals the tigers need for
Then there is poaching, where people seek out tigers wherever
they live to kill them to feed the illegal trade in endangered
animal parts and products. The demand for tiger parts,
especially trophy skins and tiger bone wine has grown
dramatically as Chinese status symbols replace the
desire for traditional Asian medicine components.
Tigers anywhere but in the wild are not candidates for
conservation because zoo tigers or any other tigers bred in
captivity are never going home. They are raised to depend on
people for food and never learn how to be successful in the
wild. It takes a successful wild tiger mother between two and
three years to teach her cubs how to hunt, find water, and
avoid danger - assuming humans leave them alone.
In American accredited zoos, the
AZA Species Survival Programs (SSPs) for tigers are working to
preserve genetic diversity in their own captive populations for
Conservation Education, not for re-introduction into the wild.
Tigers produced by backyard breeders have no known lineage and
in the US they are called "generic" tigers, with no value to
conservation efforts in the wild.
Many exotic animal businesses in America will tell you that
your money is going to tiger conservation. These businesses
include roadside exhibitors, pay-to-play and photo op
operations, circuses, and entertainment. Their
conservation claims are without merit, ranging from flat-out
lies to minor and ineffective support for true habitat