Tiger, being the largest of all Big Cats – is the most charismatic and the most feared animal, easily recognized by its dark stripes on a reddish-orange coat. Although much widespread in the past; in the present times, its range includes parts of the Indian subcontinent, the Russian Far East, parts of China, the Indochinese Peninsula, and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. India alone accounts for over 70% of the total wild tiger population.
Where Do Tigers Live?
Tigers are an endangered species whose population has dropped by around 97% over the last 100 years. In the past, tigers lived across Asia but now they are known to occur in only 13 tiger range countries. These are India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Russia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. In some of these countries, however, only anecdotal evidence of the presence of tigers in the current times exist.
Tiger Range Countries
India has the highest number of wild tigers in the world. As per the last tiger count held in 2018, the country had 2,967 tigers accounting for over 70% of the global wild tiger population. It is a significant rise from 2,226 tigers in 2014. In 2006, the country had only 1,411 tigers left in the wild. An alarm was raised by conservationists and citizens of the country that led to great efforts made to protect the species. The result led to the gradual increase in tiger numbers to 1,706 in 2010 and then the population rose further.
Nepal, the Himalayan country that hosts the world's tallest mountain, Mount Everest, is also home to a significant population of wild Bengal tigers. In 2009, there were only 121 tigers in the country. By 2013, the number had increased to 198. A survey conducted between 2017 and March 2018 brought more good news. The tiger population had increased to 235, nearly double the number in 2009.
Although small in size, Bhutan, another country in the Himalayas, and bordering India, is home to 103 tigers. The tiger population was revealed in 2014 when the country conducted its first nationwide survey. Prior to this survey, the tiger population in the country was estimated to be 75.
Bangladesh, a country neighboring India in South Asia, has its tigers living in the unique mangrove forest habitat of the Sundarbans region. Poaching, habitat loss, climate change are some of the biggest threats to the Sundarbans tigers. The country has around 114 tigers in the Sundarbans region as per a report by the Dhaka Tribune.
Russia too has attained significant success in conserving its tiger population that had dwindled over the centuries due to poaching and habitat degradation. According to the latest census conducted in 2015, the tiger population in Russia was found to be between 480 and 540 tigers. Tigers found in the country are well-adapted to live in the harsh cold environment of Siberia.
China hosts the biggest illegal market for poached tiger parts. These parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine preparation or for display in homes. Hence, it is not surprising that the country hosts only about 50 tigers in the wild. Tigers are, however, bred in captivity in China in large numbers. Sadly, the illegal tiger trade market active in the country has not only nearly finished off the country's wild tiger population but is also responsible for eradicating tigers from many other countries.
Across countries in Southeast Asia, the tiger has suffered greatly. As per studies, Thailand hosts around 100 to 160 wild tigers. The protected areas in the country are now receiving a lot of attention from both the government of Malaysia and international conservation organizations like Panthera. Some positive effects have been recorded in this direction.
Malaysia's tigers have also suffered greatly from poaching the habitat destruction. The country is estimated to have around 250 to 340 tigers.
Vietnam also has a thriving illegal market trading in tiger body parts. Tiger bone paste is used in preparing traditional medicine in the country. Although tigers once thrived in Vietnam, today only anecdotal evidence of the existence of tigers is available. No tigers have been photographed in Vietnam since 1997.
Cambodia has unfortunately lost its wild tigers only recently. In 2007, the last wild tiger was photographed in the country using camera traps in the Mondulkiri Protected Forest. In 2016, WWF declared tigers to be functionally extinct in Cambodia. Plans are now on to re-introduce the species in protected areas.
Indonesia is home to the Sumatran tigers that numbered around 1,000 in 1978. Today, it is estimated that the country houses only around 400 of these tigers. Accurate figures, however, are lacking.
Laos has also nearly lost all wild tigers. According to anecdotal information, the country has few or no breeding female tigers. As per the government of the country, only 17 tigers lived in Laos in 2010.
Although tiger numbers in Myanmar have not been officially counted, it is believed that some tigers still live in the forests in some parts of the country. Surveys are needed to know the exact figures.
Habitat Of Tigers
Tigers can thrive in an astoundingly diverse array of habitats when adequate prey is available. In the Indian subcontinent, tigers inhabit tropical moist broadleaf and dry forests, subtropical moist broadleaf forests, evergreen forests, and even the mangrove swamp forests of the Sundarbans. Tigers have also been recorded in the subalpine forests of the Himalayas in northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan. On the island of Sumatra, tigers are found in the montane and peat swamp forests. In Thailand, they occur in the evergreen and deciduous forests. Siberian tigers inhabit the temperate broadleaf, Korean pine, and mixed forests.
Threats To Tigers
Throughout their range, tigers face a plethora of threats like habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, and poaching. Linear infrastructural development such as the construction of roads and railways through forests fragment tiger habitats, preventing the gene flow between tiger populations. Poaching of tigers for their body parts is a massive threat to the species, especially in the Southeast Asian countries, China, and Russia. Tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine preparations that have no scientific basis. Climate change is an emerging threat to tiger populations. In the Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh, sea-level rise and extreme weather events like cyclones are proving a challenge to tiger conservation in the region.