The Conservation Story
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 prey.
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 preservation.