India and many Asian nations have a relationship with the tiger going back hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. However recent interest in traditional folk medicines, often referred to as Traditional Chinese Medicine, from China and Southeast Asia has kept tiger poaching profitable in recent decades. Many cultures in Asia have a long history of believing the tiger has supernatural or restorative powers, making the animals valued for their essentially all of their parts. There are a total of 13 countries that still have wild populations of tigers. These “Tiger Nations” are also called Tiger Range Countries or TRCs and participate in multilateral talks on tiger conservation and trade as well as programs to reintroduce tigers in countries where they are functionally extinct.
Tiger skins have a strong value to traditional Buddhist monasteries but also to contemporary Asian celebrities who have worn the skins as provocative status symbols. According to Walker’s Mammals of the World (Novak, R. M.) a tiger skin could sell for approximately $4,250 in 1977, about $16,880 in 2015 dollars. A report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) from 2004 indicated that tiger skins were being sold for up to $10,000 (page 10) in Tibet primarily to Chinese, Taiwanese, and European tourists. Teeth and claws also have a special importance to buyers as a status symbol. Tiger bones are also highly sought after for use in medicines and health tonics (page 4) and in the past few years tiger bone wine has become a curiosity, despite being illegal. In Traditional Chinese Medicine a tiger’s penis is believed to be a natural enhancer of male virility and in 2006 a dish sold for $5,700 (£3,000) in Beijing (about $6,800 in 2015).
Although China has few wild tigers of its own a report by TRAFFIC estimates the country keeps thousands of tigers in captivity (page 6), meanwhile restaurants in China claim to receive meat and parts from farms and breeding centers (page 36). This data is difficult to reflect in official statistics as China, Korea, and other nations farming animals for their parts are reticent to admit to the source of tiger meat and parts within the country, whether from captivity or from external sources. Tiger parts are also being sourced from Czech Republic, and other countries inside the European Union, and are destined for Southeast Asia. In spite of China’s ban of the tiger parts trade there are still incidents of tiger parts being sold to consumers.
While China is thought to once the largest populations tigers, the country is now home to very few wild tigers and thousands held in captivity for amusement or farming. Today India is thought to have among the largest wild tiger populations, however this accounts for only the Bengal subspecies. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam also once had wild tiger populations. In February 2015 these “Tiger Nations” agreed to create an intelligence-sharing network to fight poaching and trafficking.
Due to the immense size and population of India, inadequate anti-poaching efforts, and a huge demand of animal parts by neighboring countries, it is difficult to determine the exact number of tigers, leopards, pangolins, and other wildlife illegally killed and trafficked. This is also due to the porous nature of India’s borders which are not adequately staffed or funded to prevent illegal crossings and illegal trade. For these reasons reports of big cat skins seized by authorities in India may not always be from domestic poaching incidents and individuals caught poaching leopards in India may not be of Indian nationality.
In October of 2003 the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reported that a shipment of skins from 581 leopards, 31 tigers, and 778 otters (pages 1, 5) heading from India to Lhasa, Tibet had been intercepted at the border. An incident in July of 2004 in Kanpur, India saw the seizure of 456 leopard and tiger claws and $13,000 in cash (page 5).
In 2018 the northern border-state of Uttarakhad was recognized as the “most unsafe” state for leopards. From 2014 through October 2018 the state suffered 60 illegal killings of leopards, 23 percent of the 260 recognized illegal killings of leopards throughout India during that period.
These efforts have helped to illustrate the size and scope of wildlife trafficking within India. The Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and governmental as well as non-governmental organizations have since worked to protect tigers and investigate deaths within India’s numerous reserves and in the wild.
The tiger poaching statistics represent what is provided by WPSI. They report as many verifiable tiger fatalities as possible. Naturally the total number of cases resulting from poaching and other causes of mortality may be higher than what is described below. Causes of death not included in the “other documented mortality” statistics: human-wildlife conflict, attacks by other tigers or large brown bears, road/train accidents, and accidental deaths caused by medications during sedation and treatment.
Historical Tiger Poaching Statistics (1994 – 31 March, 2021)
Detailed Tiger Poaching Statistics (2005 – 31 March, 2021)
|India – WPSI Tiger Data||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019||2020||March 2021|
|Documented Poached Tigers||29||32||30||13||32||43||23||26||50||38||34||38||31||18|
|Other Documented Mortalities||Data Unavailable||DU||DU||DU||DU||DU||58||65||82||78||70||75||80||32|
The table below reflects in-depth data on recent tiger mortality in India. Note that figures of “seized” tiger parts are either parts of tiger skulls averaged by weight and divided by the average weight of a skull to determine how many tigers those parts came from or are representative of skins and other parts of a tiger which can be uniquely identified as having represented the death of one tiger. Mortality data from 2015 and beyond are not available.
In-Depth Data on Tiger Mortality (2011-2017)
|India – WPSI Tiger Mortality Data||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017|
|Documented Poached Tigers||7||15||26||8||6||23||21|
|Seizure of Tiger Parts (# of Whole Tigers)||6||16||16||15||20||27||17|
|Unknown Cause of Death||21||28||21||27||37||40||25|
|Killed by Forest Department||4||1||1||4||3||4||3|
|Fight with other Animals||4||7||2||3||3||5||9|
Source: WPSI’s Tiger Poaching Statistics, 2014 & 2015, 2018.
There are only a few hundred Sumatran tigers left in Indonesia’s wilderness. These cousins of the well-known Bengal and Siberian subspecies are at serious risk of going extinct. The Bali and Javan subspecies formerly inhabited what is today Indonesia, but both are now extinct. The Bali tiger was last seen in 1937 and the Javan tiger was last recorded in Meru Betiri National Park in 1976.
Social media is playing a role in both illegal sales and in law enforcement investigations into wildlife trafficking and in late 2014 a pair of online merchants were arrested in Indonesia for attempting to sell a number of stuffed tigers, lions, and bears. Attempting to traffick protected wildlife parts in Indonesia carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Statistics on tiger poaching in Indonesia may be added in the future.