The South China tiger (
tigris amoyensis) is endemic to China and also the most critically endangered subspecies of living tigers. It is considered
and only about 150 individuals survive in captivity to date, whose genetic heritage, however, is ambiguous and controversial.
Like 23andMe for tigers, each tiger’s genetic ancestry was found and then matched with its family history from the studbook to make a pedigree that shows all the relationships within the captive population (Figure 1) and how these captive tigers are related to other subspecies.
The South China tiger is considered functionally extinct. This means there aren’t enough tigers left in the wild for a sustainable population, making the captive population very valuable. It is important to identify and maintain the South China tiger in captivity if, someday, South China tigers are to be reintroduced into the wild.
Principal investigator Dr. Shu-Jin Luo says that “this study has provided a full picture of the genetic status of the captive South China tiger population and sheds new light on the possible candidates to use, should reintroduction into their original range come into reality.”
Seventy-four of the sampled tigers fell into these two lines. The remaining 18 tigers descended from the Suzhou line but had various degrees of admixture, or genetic evidence of other subspecies.
However, taking those 18 tigers out of the population, the remaining South China tigers show levels of genetic variability like species with proven successful captive conservation programs (Luo et al. 2008).
How many tigers are left in the world?
There are about 13,000 tigers left in the world. Unfortunately most live in captivity. There are around 5,000 tigers left in the wild, but they’re spread out from India, to Russia, down to Southeast Asia. Let’s take a look and see how the different populations are doing.
As it stands, captive tigers are significantly more numerous than their wild counterparts. This is primarily due to their use in zoos and theme parks, but there is also a smaller subset of people who keep them as exotic pets. Captive tigers (specifically those kept outside of a professional zoo setting) are often farmed for tourists. The practice is frowned upon by conservationists worldwide, particularly when tiger cubs are bred simply for the photo opportunity they provide. These tourist locations usually can’t properly deal with dozens of large cats that have since grown out of their “profitability” period as cubs. The older tigers are then relegated to living their lives behind bars, often in less than ideal conditions.
The United States is the world leader for captive tiger populations, with an estimated 5,000 cats kept in captivity. Worldwide, there are an estimated 8,000 tigers kept in captivity. Since many states in the US don’t have laws against keeping big cats, they are even kept in backyards and homes as pets.
Wild numbers are a little harder to estimate, but there is some good data that can help us, although the numbers span 2014 all the way through 2019. There are an estimated 5,000 wild tigers left in the world. The largest population of wild tigers is far and away found in India. As of 2019, India is calculated to be home to up to 3,346 tigers, but that number is always changing.
Project Tiger is one of the largest conservation programs in India and is dedicated to monitoring and helping wild tiger populations across the country. As of 2020, the numbers have been successfully stabilized, and things are looking positive for native Indian tiger populations. This is the most recent report for the metrics, habitat info, and all the data for the NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority). It’s worth a read for anyone wanting more detailed information or just beautiful ry alongside important data.
Tigers usually live in forested habitats but can live in swamps, grasslands, and rain forests. The wild population (all subspecies) originally ranged from modern-day Turkey to the coast of the Sea of Japan (on the eastern coast of China), and as far north as Russia and as far south as Bali and Indonesia. Today, however, they only inhabit 6% of that land.
The Siberian tiger is the largest of all subspecies. There are about 550 in the wild, and most of them live in the Russian east, with a few ranging into China and North Korea. These remote tigers live in the snowy taiga and boreal forests.
Bengal tigers (or Indian tigers) are the most numerous of all tiger species. Bengals make up the large numbers found across India, with around 3,500 wild specimens in the country. These tigers are famous for their occasional white coloration that occurs when two parents carry the recessive gene, although it rarely happens.
The South China tiger is a critically endangered species that lives in central and eastern China. There were 4,000 tigers 40 years ago, but the government declared them pests, and they nearly went extinct. There are still tiny populations remaining in the wild, but they are rare and considered functionally extinct.
Malayan tigers and Indo-Chinese tigers were only recently considered separate species. There was an estimated 1,000 individuals in 1998, but recent numbers are harder to come by. They live in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Sumatran tigers are only found in Sumatra and are critically endangered. They have the darkest coat among the species and are the smallest of all tigers. There are around 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.
Tigers are endangered (with some subspecies being critically endangered) for a few reasons. Their initial decline was so sharp in fact, that the current guesses show that tiger populations declined by 95% since the beginning of the 20th century. Poaching and habitat destruction were the chief reasons that the decline was so sharp.
Poaching is common as certain markets value tiger fur, bones, and exotic body parts used in medicine. These medicines don’t work, however, but the market still has demand even today. In China, for example, the South China tiger was pushed to functional extinction when the government declared them pests and wholesale slaughter happened across the country.
Aside from poachers and hunters, habitat loss is the other reason. Tigers generally need 10-15 square miles of territory in the wild to patrol and feed. Less than this, and it’s likely they will starve. As forest biomes are destroyed for lumber, space, and other resources, tigers lose their homes.
Human-tiger conflict is only likely to increase in the future, but it shouldn’t distract us from the benefits of a thriving wild tiger population. Healthy ecosystems are composed of producers at the bottom level (such as green plants), primary consumers which feed on plants (such as rodents), secondary consumers which prey on small- and medium-sized primary consumers (such as small felines), and top-level consumers which feed on medium- and large-primary and secondary consumers. If we only see the threat posed to humans by apex predators such as tigers and leopards — and therefore work to bring about their extinction — the ecosystem will become unbalanced, leading to its decline and even collapse.
Outside the fictional realm of the jianghu, however, tigers had all but disappeared from China as recently as two decades ago. Taxonomically, all tigers in the world belong to a single species, though the global population was roughly divided into nine subspecies based on geographical distribution. Unfortunately, three of these subspecies — the Javan, Caspian, and Bali tigers — were driven to extinction by the mid- to late-20th century. The South China tiger, although still hanging on, is considered extinct in the wild.
Of course, the return of tiger populations has brought with it new problems, such as increased conflict between humans and tigers, which includes the killing of livestock and accidental injuries to human beings. The above-mentioned Wandashan-1 tackled and bit a female villager when it was first discovered, then smashed a car window, landing its paw on the shoulder of a passenger and leaving a large dent in the car door.
This is the first real-time biodiversity monitoring system in the world to cover such a large area, and it represents a major technological leap from traditional methods that involved maintaining large networks of human observers and patrolling conservation areas based on lines on a map. By September 2021, the system had already transmitted and identified more than 20,000 s of Siberian tigers and Amur leopards, as well as more than 8 million s of other wildlife.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2022 is the Year of the Tiger. At first glance, tigers might seem to be the odd animal out in the traditional zodiac scheme, one with relatively little connection either to Chinese culture or the everyday life of its people, but these big cats have a long history in China, where they are admired for their imposing presence and fearless nature. Indeed, tigers are often spoken of in the same reverent tones typically reserved for dragons; they are symbols of majesty, power, and authority. A line in the ancient text “Book of Changes” states: “Clouds follow the dragon, and winds follow the tiger.” To battle a tiger is shorthand for bravery in Chinese culture, most famously shown in the classic novel of grassroots heroism “Water Margin.”
How many South China tigers are left in the world 2020?
How many tigers are left in China?