There are thirty-eight cat species in the world, but none of them command the respect and awe of the tiger. In Asian myths it is the king of beasts as well as a demon, but in the real world this dangerous predator has become the hunted. Scientists fear the tiger will be extinct in the wild by the end of this century.
Tigers are the largest cats and weigh as much as five-hundred pounds. They are found in forests, wooded hillsides, and swamps of eastern and southern Asia where they live on deer, wild cattle, antelopes and small animals. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were estimated to be over one-hundred-thousand animals. Today, scientists believe there may be only eight thousand remaining. Three of eight subspecies of tiger, the Balinese, Javan, and Caspian are already extinct.
Tiger numbers have declined because of habitat loss and trafficking of body parts. Growing human populations are destroying the tropical forests, pushing tigers into areas where there is not enough prey available for them to survive. Multinational paper companies also encourage logging in countries were tigers live, destroying their habitat.
In many Asian countries there is a high demand for tiger body parts. Skin, bones, and internal organs are used to make traditional medicines touted to cure anything from arthritis to impotency. Teeth and claws are used to create charms and trophies.
There is an international ban on selling parts, but lack of political will and corruption in many Asian countries are still hindering law enforcement. In the end, people around the world must create the pressure needed to save these big cats.