Tigers fight back, now more than 4,000 in the wild

26 November 2015
Tigers fight back, now more than 4,000 in the wild
Photo courtesy: Deepak Singla Photography

Chris Slappendel, the founder of the Tiger Trail Foundation, announced today, 25 November, that the number of tigers is on the rise again. Following an evaluation in all tiger range countries, Slappendel concluded that the number of tigers living in the wild has exceeded the 4,000 mark, after hitting rock bottom in 2010 with 3,200 tigers. 
While this 25 percent rise in tiger numbers makes the situation seem like it’s improving, there is still no reason for optimism.
“According to the latest count numbers in the tiger range countries, plus the corresponding scientific calculations based on those figures, we are in a position to announce that the number of tigers living in the wild has increased and surpassed the 4,000 mark”, Slappendel said.  
Myanmar has the world’s largest tiger reserve located in the Hukawng Valley, near Tanai in Myitkyina District of Kachin State. However, according to a report by the Wildlife Conservation Society released in October 2010, only 50 tigers remained there.
The exact number of tigers overall, though, is disputable. Counting tigers is a tough task as they mostly live in areas inaccessible to humans. “It’s not like counting people on a train platform. I think only 15 to 20 percent of all tigers are really identified and counted, i.e. with cameras. The rest of them are ‘scientifically’ assessed”, says Slappendel. “There is a lot of margin for error. This is why ‘official’ numbers are always disputable. Take India: The official numbers are now up to 2,226, which is an increase of 30 percent in 5 years. Hardly anybody believes this and the Indian media is all over it. The same goes for other countries although the media in most other tiger range countries are not allowed to be very critical”.
Before turning into a tiger advocate, Chris Slappendel was working in the Netherlands as a consultant in marketing and sales. In 2012, he decided to make a contribution to help saving tigers and in 2013 he embarked on a 6-month journey through 24 Asian countries to learn about what happened or what is still happening with this critically endangered animal. 
“I’ve spoken with more than 300 people in tiger conservation (NGOs and governments) and with more than 100 journalists. The results of my journey were shocking, really shocking. In the former Soviet countries I learned the extinct Caspian tiger was killed by orders of the predecessors of President Putin, who now is the only world leader that is really concerned about tigers. China showed me that politics is more important than the mere existence of tigers and the Java and Bali tigers were eliminated because people from my home country hunted them into extinction.”
Although the number of 4,000 appears to be a success, the situation has not improved. The threats are still very real and the survival of tigers is still doubtful. “Mind you, Sumatra and Malaysia are on fire due to palm oil. India has to deal with overpopulation. Amur tigers in Russia are very dependent on President Putin. China still hasn’t found a way to reduce domestic demand for tiger ingredients (like pills, lotions and wine) while lots of conservationists say they just don’t want to end it as it is most profitable for China. And tigers in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are almost gone. The only real success to me is Nepal, where the government has ordered the military to protect the national parks.”
Despite the scepticism on the success, the rise in numbers can be seen as a big compliment for all those people who work hard to save tigers. “Some NGOs control the communications network and use part of the money they get from donors to claim all the successes. This leads to jealousy from the smaller NGOs. People out there don’t have the faintest idea that lots of smaller NGOs are just as important as well. Governments are the most important party in nature conservation and that is something most people just don’t believe. For me the fact that tigers are on the rise can be seen as a very big motivation for all these people: NGOs, governments but also all those who work in media and play an important role to raise awareness.”