There are some statistics that you hear that knock your socks off, and you just can’t quite believe them. You think they’re concocted purely to get attention and for shock value. Here’s one I recently came across that fits that category: there are more tigers in American backyards than there are left in the wild throughout the world.
How could that be? I wondered. After all, the tiger isn’t even indigenous to the United States. It turns out that there is very little regulation on keeping wild tigers here. And because their body parts are prized in Asian black markets for traditional medicines and folk remedies — and they are popular subjects for photographers and for college mascots — trafficking in and owning tigers becomes a means for making money.
While it’s estimated that there are about 3,200 tigers left in the wild, there could be 5,000 tigers captive in our country. Eight states
have absolutely no laws regarding keeping tigers as personal property: Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Seventeen other states allow keeping the animals with a state permit or registration.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2010 was the Year of the Tiger, and on November 21-24, the International Tiger Forum
was held in St. Petersburg in the Russian Federation. It was the world’s first global summit focused on saving a single species from extinction. Leaders of thirteen countries — the last refuges of Asia’s most iconic species — met to endorse a Global Tiger Recovery Program involving actions (such as how to protect breeding populations and natural habitats, and addressing poaching and international trade) meant to double the number of wild tigers: to 7,000 by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.
In just the past one hundred years, tiger numbers have dropped from 100,000 to about the 3,200 we think are left in the wild today. So when we know there are 5,000 captive here in the United States, something seems off-kilter.
While many United States–based conservationists and organizations
have been working to save wild tigers, our efforts might have more meaning and garner more respect if we took steps to manage the tigers in our own backyard. By supporting the establishment of a centralized federal database to monitor the big cats in captivity here, we’d have more leverage when we ask other nations that hold large numbers of captive tigers to help guard against trade in these animals from threatening their wild counterparts.
Sustainable Travel International believes that tourism has enormous potential to do positive things for people and the planet, such as promoting gender equality, preserving cultures, and conserving nature. And as responsible world travelers, when we see a species that belongs to another habitat in captivity in our own in more numbers than are left in the wild, it seems only natural that we do what we can to flip that astounding statistic around. Instead of losing our footwear over it, let’s try to put a cap on it.
Word from the wild,