India’s Illegal Tiger Trade

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In 1900, more than 100,000 tigers were in the wild. In 2017, there are just over 3,000.

In 1994, Belinda Wright – an award-winning wildlife photographer and filmmaker – took up the cause of conservation and founded the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). The organisation aims to raise awareness  on the brutal killings of wild tigers in India and the illegal trade which is driving this. 


Even a cursory glance at the tiger trade hotspots in India makes grim viewing.


Source: WPSI

Wild tigers are being killed in India to supply demand for tiger parts – predominantly – in China – in December 2016 China announced it will ban ivory trade by the end of 2017. There are six major smuggling routes over the borders of Nepal, China and Myanmar. Wildlife crime – which goes beyond tigers – is the fourth largest illegal occupation in the world. It is difficult to put a definitive figure on the value of this illegal trade, but estimates put it at potentially in excess of $20 billion.

Due to its clandestine nature, the scale of the international illegal trade in wildlife is difficult to quantify. For example, when United States Congress considered the overall value of international wildlife crime in 2008, it found that it was worth at least $5 billion a year, but might total in excess of $20 billion. Another estimate valued the illegal international wildlife trade at between $7.8 billion and $10 billion a year. Wildlife has been estimated to constitute the world’s fourth largest criminal market, behind drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Source: UK Parliament 2012

Using data from WPSI, the linear trend for tigers killed in India by poaching and seizures between 1994-2016 shows positive signs, with some increased reasons for concern since 2012 (see graph below). But this may not be telling the whole story – this is only counting those which have been recorded by WPSI, and the figures may under-represent actual deaths by poaching and seizures.


Source: Data from WPSI

But this may not be telling the whole story – this is only counting those which have been recorded by WPSI, and the figures may under-represent actual deaths by poaching and seizures. 

A recent study by TRAFFIC – an NGO working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development – titled Reduced to Skin and Bones Re-Examined: An analysis of Tiger seizures from 13 range countries from 2000-2015, found that India had recorded the greatest number of seizures of all Tiger Range Countries (TRCs), accounting for 44% (355) of the total: a minimum of 540 Tigers seized, accounting for 30% of the total. India significantly higher than other TRCs on both counts.

Location information demonstrates that while the southern region remains a hotspot, there also appears to have been a greater number of seizures reported in the central zone in and around the State of Madhya Pradesh. A smaller cluster of seizures can also be observed along the border of Nepal in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Research finds that there is a greater probability that Tiger seizures will occur in areas where Tigers exist and therefore strengthening the need for sitebased enforcement efforts (Sharma, et al., 2014). Furthermore, their research found that that the national rail network in India is the preferred method for transporting Tigers and their parts, and is greatly determined by the fact that many train lines traverse through many protected areas across India, in contrast to the national bus service for example.

Source: Stoner and Krishnasamy (2016)

Why are tigers important?

As top predators, tigers help to keep their environment healthy. It’s the way things naturally work in the wild – the predators prey on other animals, in this case herbivores (plant-eaters) such as deer. But without enough tigers to eat them, herbivores can overgraze and damage the land, disrupting the balance of the local environment. Local people also depend on a healthy environment for food, water and lots of other resources. By helping protect tigers we’re also helping look after the places where they live, which is good for all the people and wildlife sharing that environment. 

Source: WWF

Organisations, such as WPSI and its numerous projects are increasingly needed to combat the illegal trade and to save tigers from extinction. WWF aims to help double the number of wild tigers to over 6,000 by 2022 – the next Chinese year of the tiger. Recent figures from India, which has 70% of the world’s tiger population, suggest a 30% rise from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014 (see also a report by the Guardian here).

But this is the first time tiger counts are increasing since 1900, when there were more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. That’s more than 96,000 than exist today.

The recent figures suggest promising increases. But more can and should be done.

For more information see:

Cover picture: Hindustan Times

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7 thoughts on “India’s Illegal Tiger Trade

  1. An excellent post Dan. It is hard to imagine how governments and people in general can allow things like this to happen. Unfortunately it is another example of how power and greed is destroying the planet.

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