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The tiger, largest of all cats, is one of the most charismatic and evocative species on Earth; it is also one of the most threatened. Most tigers live in isolated pockets spread across increasingly fragmented forests stretching from India to south-eastern China and from the Russian Far East to Sumatra, Indonesia.

Poisoned, trapped, snared, shot, captured...

Across its range, this magnificent animal is being persecuted. Today, tigers are poisoned, shot, trapped and snared, and the majority of these animals are sought to meet the demands of a continuing illegal wildlife trade - which includes traditional Chinese medicine.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a holistic approach to healthcare where patients are treated using natural plant, mineral and animal-based ingredients. TCM dates back at least 3,000 years and is an indispensable part of Chinese cultural heritage. In the early 1990s, WWF began its traditional Chinese medicine program to promote alternatives to traditional treatments that use threatened or endangered species, such as tigers and rhinos.

Although many species used in TCM are now protected by national and international laws, illegal trade and poaching has increased to crisis levels as TCM's popularity has expanded over the last two decades.

WWF and TRAFFIC work with traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and consumers to increase awareness of the plight of endangered species and to promote alternative treatments that use sustainably harvested, and often herbal, ingredients.

Background Information

For many centuries, tiger bone was a preferred treatment for joint ailments like arthritis, while rhino horn has been used to treat fever, convulsions and delirium. Bile from bear gall bladders is used to treat a variety of ailments, from inflammation to bacterial infections.

Although many TCM practitioners now reject the use of these and other endangered species, poaching continues. The use of these animals' parts and products is deeply rooted in traditional East Asian cultures and these ancient practices are slow to change.

Booming economies and growing wealth in parts of Asia have caused demand and prices to rise for many wildlife products. The combined pressures of commercial demand, excessive hunting and habitat destruction have depleted Asia's tiger population. Most experts agree that the trade in tiger bone for medicinal purposes was a major factor fuelling the tiger conservation crisis of the 1980s and '90s.

Animals and TCM

Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for more than 3,000 years, with generations of families relying on it to maintain their health and cure illness. But the popularity of some TCM cures has helped drive certain species close to extinction, including tigers and rhinos.

Fortunately, the majority of TCM practitioners in the United States report that the use of tiger and rhino parts is rare. But it must be stopped completely. The tiger is an ancient symbol of strength and power, and its bones have been used to treat arthritis and muscular atrophy for centuries.

Because of their use in medicines -- along with other factors like habitat loss -- tigers have almost disappeared, with as few as 5,000 to 7,000 left in the wild. If the use of their bones for TCM continues, the powerful and majestic wild tiger may not be around for future generations. Rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicines for centuries to treat fevers, convulsions and delirium. But now only 3,100 black rhinos survive in Africa. In Asia, the situation is even more dire, with only about 2,800 of all three Asian species combined.

Hunters, traders, and poor local residents whose main means of subsistence comes from the forest, are wiping out the tiger and the natural prey upon which it depends. While poaching for trade continues to menace the tiger's survival, perhaps the greatest long-term threats are the loss of habitat and the depletion of the tiger's natural prey. Large commercial plantations have replaced a lot of tiger habitat in several tropical range countries.

Three tiger subspecies are already extinct, and a fourth is on its way

Tiger Study

The study finds that tigers reside in 40 percent less habitat than they were thought to a decade ago and now occupy only seven percent of their historic range.

The study also finds that conservation efforts have resulted in some populations remaining stable and even increasing, but concludes that long-term success is only achieved where there is broad landscape-level conservation and buy-in from stakeholders.

In the past century, the world has lost three of the nine tiger subspecies. The Bali, Caspian, and Javan tigers have all become extinct ... and many scientists believe the South China tiger is "functionally extinct".

Priority areas offer the best hope for tiger conservation

Identifies seven focal tiger landscapes where the chances of long-term tiger conservation are best, and four additional areas where conservation opportunities are good.

In each of the focal landscapes, charities aim to establish and manage effective tiger conservation areas, reduce the poaching of tigers and their prey, eliminate the trade in tiger parts and products, create incentives that will encourage local communities and others to support tiger conservation, and build capacity for tiger conservation.

Physical Description

The tiger is the largest of the Asian big cats and can be found in a wide range of habitats, from the evergreen and monsoon forests of the Indo-Malayan realm to the mixed coniferous-deciduous woodlands of the Russian Far East and the mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans, shared by India and Bangladesh.

Tigers are typically solitary hunters and prey mainly on deer and wild pig.

Tigers have dens in caves, tree hollows and dense vegetation. They are mostly nocturnal but in the northern part of its range, the Siberian subspecies may also be active during the day at winter-time. Using their sight and hearing rather than smell, the tiger stalks its prey and once it has reached close proximity, attacks from the side or rear and kills by a bite to the neck or the back of the head.

Unless they die, tigers are never replaced on their range. Although individuals do not patrol their territories, the range is visited over a period of days or weeks and it is marked with urine and faeces.


Body length is 140-280 cm and tail length is 60 to 95 cm.


the upper part of the animal ranges from reddish orange to ochre, and the under parts are whitish. The body has a series of black striations of black to dark grey colour.


Biogeographical realm

Indo-Malayan, Palearctic

Range States

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia (Sumatra), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, North Korea (few left), Russia (Far East), Thailand, Vietnam

Why is this species important?

Conservation Results

Four of WWF's priority regions are important for tiger conservation: Amur-Heilong, Borneo and Sumatra, Eastern Himalayas and Mekong.

The tiger is a powerful symbol of reverence among the variety of cultures that live across its range. They command respect, awe or fear from their human neighbours. Even in places where tigers have become extinct or never existed in the wild, they live in myth and legend.

As top predators, they keep populations of wild ungulates in check, thereby maintaining the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. A whole myriad of other life-forms are essential to support a healthy tiger population.

Interesting Facts

A tiger has been reported to cover up to 10 meters in a horizontal leap.

It is reported that at 11 months, juveniles are already capable of killing prey.

The greatest threats to species and the places where they live are:

Habitat loss -Habitat loss is probably the greatest threat to the variety of life on this planet today.

It is identified as a main threat to 85% of all species described in the IUCN's Red List (those species officially classified as "Threatened" and "Endangered").

Increasing food production is a major agent for the conversion of natural habitat into agricultural land.

Why is it happening?

Forest loss and degradation is mostly caused by the expansion of agricultural land, intensive harvesting of timber, wood for fuel and other forest products, as well as overgrazing.

High land conversion rates

The net loss in global forest area during the 1990s was about 94 million ha (equivalent to 2.4% of total forests). It is estimated that in the 1990s, almost 70% of deforested areas were converted to agricultural land.

Around half of the world's original forests have disappeared, and they are still being removed at a rate 10x higher than any possible level of re growth. As tropical forests contain at least half the Earth's species, the clearance of some 17 million hectares each year is a dramatic loss.

Human-animal conflict - Conflict between people and animals is one of the main threats to the continued survival of many species in different parts of the world, and is also a significant threat to local human populations. If solutions to conflicts are not adequate, local support for conservation also declines.

How would you react to an elephant in your backyard or a bear in your garden?

As human populations expand and natural habitats shrink, people and animals are increasingly coming into conflict over living space and food.

From baboons in Namibia attacking young cattle, to greater one-horned rhinos in Nepal destroying crops, to orangutans in oil palm plantations, to European bears and wolves killing livestock - the problem is universal, affects rich and poor, and is bad news for all concerned.

The impacts are often huge.

People lose their crops, livestock, property, and sometimes their lives. The animals, many of which are already threatened or endangered, are often killed in retaliation or to 'prevent' future conflicts.

Unsustainable trade - Second-biggest direct threat to species after habitat destruction

What is wildlife trade?

Whenever people sell or exchange wild animal and plant resources, this is wildlife trade. It can involve live animals and plants or all kinds of wild animal and plant products. Wildlife trade is easiest to track when it is from one country to another because it must be checked, and often recorded, at Customs checkpoints.

Why do people trade wildlife?

People trade wildlife for cash or exchange it for other useful objects - for example, utensils in exchange for wild animal skins. Driving the trade is the end-consumer who has a need or desire for wildlife products, whether for food, construction or clothing.

For a more detailed list of the various uses of wildlife, visit the TRAFFIC website. TRAFFIC is the joint wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

What is wildlife trade worth financially?

This is a difficult estimate to make. As a guideline, TRAFFIC has calculated that wildlife products worth about 160 US billion dollars were imported around the globe each year in the early 1990s. In addition to this, there is a large and profitable illegal wildlife trade, but because it is conducted covertly no-one can judge with any accuracy what this may be worth.

What is the scale of wildlife trade?

The trade involves hundreds of millions of wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species. To provide a glimpse of the scale of wildlife trafficking, there are records of over 100 million tones of fish, 1.5 million live birds and 440,000 tones of medicinal plants in trade in just one year.  

Why is wildlife trade a problem?

Wildlife trade is by no means always a problem and most wildlife trade is legal. However, it has the potential to be very damaging. Populations of species on earth declined by an average 40% between 1970 and 2000 - and the second-biggest direct threat to species survival, after habitat destruction, is wildlife trade.

Perhaps the most obvious problem associated with wildlife trade is that it can cause overexploitation to the point where the survival of a species hangs in the balance. Historically, such overexploitation has caused extinctions or severely threatened species and, as human populations have expanded, demand for wildlife has only increased.

Recent overexploitation of wildlife for trade has affected countless species. This has been well-publicized in the cases of tigers, rhinoceroses, elephants and others, but many other species are affected.

This overexploitation should concern us all...

...because it harms human livelihoods.

Wildlife is vital to the lives of a high proportion of the world's population, often the poorest. Some rural households depend on local wild animals for their meat protein and on local trees for fuel, and both wild animals and plants provide components of traditional medicines used by the majority of people in the world. While many people in developed countries are cushioned from any effects caused by a reduced supply of a particular household item, many people in the developing world depend entirely on the continued availability of local wildlife resources.


...because it harms the balance of nature.

In addition to the impact on human livelihoods caused by the over-harvesting of animals and plants is the harm caused by overexploitation of species to the living planet in a wider way. For example, overfishing does not only affect individual fishing communities and threaten certain fish species, but causes imbalances in the whole marine system. As human life depends on the existence of a functioning planet Earth, careful and thoughtful use of wildlife species and their habitats is required to avoid not only extinctions, but serious disturbances to the complex web of life.

Particular problems are associated with illegal wildlife trade, which is usually driven by a demand for rare, protected species which need to be smuggled and/or by a desire to avoid paying duties. In illegal wildlife trade, some species involved are highly endangered, conditions of transport for live animals are likely to be worse and wildlife is more likely to have been obtained in an environmentally damaging way. The existence of illegal trade is also worrying because it undermines countries' efforts to protect their natural resources.

Wildlife trade can also cause indirect harm through:

Introducing invasive species which then prey on, or compete with, native species. Invasive species are as big a threat to the balance of nature as the direct overexploitation by humans of some species. Many invasive species have been purposely introduced by wildlife traders; examples include the American Mink, the Red-eared Terrapin and countless plant species.

Incidental killing of non-target species, such as dolphins and seabirds, when they are caught in fishing gear. It is estimated that over a quarter of the global marine fisheries catch is incidental, unwanted, and discarded. Incidental killing of animals also happens on land when crude traps are set (for example, for musk deer or duikers). These cause damage and death to a variety of animals besides the intended ones.

Finally ....... while wildlife trade alone is a major threat to some species, it is important to remember that its impact is frequently made worse by habitat loss and other pressures. WWF's range of expertise ensures that the threats to the environment from wildlife trade are tackled from an informed and global standpoint.

Are there particular trouble spots geographically?

There are certain places in the world where wildlife trade is particularly threatening or where targeted action would be particularly worthwhile. These places are sometimes called 'wildlife trade hotspots' and include, for example, China's international borders and the eastern borders of the European Union. While these hotspots might be trouble areas at present, they also offer opportunities for great conservation success, if action and funds are well-focused.

Climate change - A growing need for species to adapt to a changing world

Climate change leads to a loss of species

Our planet is warming faster than at any time in the past 10,000 years. With these changes, species have to adapt to new climate patterns (variations in rainfall; longer, warmer summers etc).

Global warming is a result of human emissions of greenhouse gases. The consequences include habitat loss; shifts in climatic conditions and in habitats that surpass migration capabilities; altered competitive relationships.

Changes already underway

Evidence suggests that the warming of the past century already has resulted in marked ecological changes, including changes in growing seasons, species ranges, and patterns of seasonal breeding.

Growing need for adaptations

The fate of many species in a rapidly warming world will likely depend on their ability to migrate away from increasingly less favorable climatic conditions to new areas that meet their physical, biological, and climatic needs.

Invasive species - Why some species are unwelcome

Invasive species are plants or animals that do not belong where humans have intentionally or accidentally brought them.

Effects: immense, insidious, irreversible

IUCN, the World Conservation Union, states that the impacts of alien invasive species are immense, insidious, and usually irreversible. They may be as damaging to native species and ecosystems on a global scale as the loss and degradation of habitats.

Hundreds of extinctions have been caused by invasive alien species. The ecological cost is the irretrievable loss of native species and ecosystems.

Species detrimental to other species

For example, the mongoose threatens endemic species on tropical cane-growing islands. They have caused the population demise or extinction of many endemic vertebrates, and continue to cause livestock damage while posing a disease risk. European red foxes introduced into Australia and temperate regions of North America have negative impacts on many native species, including smaller canids and ground nesting birds in North America, and many small and medium-sized rodent and marsupial species in Australia.

Growing global trade and communication are directly contributing to the mixing of wildlife across biogeographical boundaries.

Increasing realisation of the ecological costs of biological invasion

Species that appear in new environments may fail to survive but often they thrive, and become invasive. In fact, native species are likely to be unprepared to defend themselves against the invaders. This process, together with habitat destruction, has been a major cause of extinction of native species throughout the world in the past few hundred years.

Although in the past many of these losses have gone unrecorded, today, there is an increasing realisation of the ecological costs of biological invasion in terms of irretrievable loss of native biodiversity.

Countering the invaders

Biologists are investigating how these "invaders" succeed in establishing themselves in new environments, so that they can be controlled and eradicated where necessary.

Pollution - Causing mutations and fertility problems

Pollutants do not recognize international boundaries. Now, chemicals used thousands of kilometeres away from the pristine expanses of the Arctic and Antarctic can be found in the blood of some native animals there. 26x increase of amount of pesticide sprayed on our crops in the last 50 years

These chemicals can cause mutations and fertility problems - a fact evidenced already in the reproductive organs of fish, alligators, and polar bears. And it affects us too: according to some sources, in Europe, human breast milk passes on more dioxin to our babies than is legally allowed for cow's milk. Even with this knowledge, the amount of pesticide sprayed on our crops around the world has increased 26x in the last 50 years.