Securing the future for tigers is about so much more than just protecting an iconic species. If tigers are thriving in the wild, it's an indicator that the ecosystems in which they live are thriving too. That's good news for wildlife, for people, and for our planet!
Over 100 years ago tigers could be found in places such as the Korean Peninsula, Southern China and the island of Java in Indonesia. Yet today tigers occupy as little as 5% of their historic range. Their future remains fragile without continued investment in conservation - especially in regions like mainland Southeast Asia where there are now fewer tigers than in 2010.
Here are places that were once home to tigers...
1. Lao PDR
A tiger in Nam Et – Phou Louey National Park, Lao PDR in 2013.
This is the last known image of a tiger in Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia in 2007.
Tigers even once existed in Singapore. The last wild tiger was reportedly killed in Choa Chu Kang Village in 1930. Credit unknown.
4. Hong Kong
Tigers are estimated to have gone extinct in Hong Kong in the 1940s. Below is a tiger displayed in the city which reportedly killed two police officers in Hong Kong in 1915. Copyright credit unknown.
5. Viet Nam
The last known image of a tiger footprint in Viet Nam (pictured below) was found on 21 February in 2002 by Mr Rat Vinh from the Song Thanh National Park, in Quang Nam Province. And the last tiger recorded on camera trap in Viet Nam was a few years before in Pu Mat National Park, Nghe An province in 1999.
Why have tigers gone extinct in these places?
Tigers have been declining across Asia for more than 100 years with population extinctions driven by hunting and habitat loss. More recently in Southeast Asia a snaring crisis has been emptying forests of wildlife. Snares are often indiscriminate wire traps, they have contributed to the extinction of tigers in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam and still threaten tigers across Southeast Asia today.
Historically in places like Singapore and Hong Kong human-tiger conflict was one of the biggest drivers in the decline of wild tigers, and although opinions have changed tigers were considered vermin and intentionally hunted with government bounties for killed tigers.
The move to industrial agriculture changed the way the world grew food. Growing food on an industrial scale meant massive areas of cleared land were in high demand and in many cases the land which was cleared was diverse forests, prime tiger habitat.
The demand of the illegal wildlife trade also fueled the extinction of tigers. Wild tigers have been, and still are today, poached for traditional medicine, their skins and products such as tiger bone wine.
Bringing back the roar
Tigers are in crisis in mainland Southeast Asia. Today only Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand have wild tiger populations. Urgent action is required to address the threats to tigers by working with partners to stop poaching, undertake tiger research, prevent conflict, ensure benefits for indigenous peoples and local communities and conserve habitats across landscapes. Specific actions are required to address the snaring crisis by improving national law enforcement to act as a deterrent against poaching, as well as engaging indigenous peoples and local communities as partners to combat snaring.
There is a rare political moment for tigers in the region with a Tiger Ministerial meeting to be hosted in Malaysia in November this year (2021). The adoption of a Southeast Asia Tiger Recovery Action Plan and commitments to create National Tiger Committees chaired by the head of government would send a signal that the governments of Southeast Asia are intent on addressing the crisis.
Returning tigers to where they have gone extinct is possible, but only with the full support from communities, governments, the private sector, and conservation partners to make sure the reasons for their loss are removed.
In Kazakhstan where tigers were declared extinct 70 years ago, the government, conservation partners, and communities are working to reintroduce tigers to the country. If successful it could mark the first international tiger reintroduction in history, proving it is possible for tigers to return to their historic range.