Nov 10

More than 100 tigers (Panthera tigris) are ‘reduced to skin and bone’ each year for the illegal trade in tiger parts according to a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, and WWF.


The tiger is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, although two subspecies are considered Critically Endangered and a further three are already Extinct.

The report, entitled Reduced to Skin and Bones, analysed 481 seizures of tiger parts from the last decade in 11 out of the 13 tiger range countries. It estimated that between 1,069 and 1,220 tigers were killed to supply the illicit demand for tiger parts – an average of 104 to 119 animals per year – but also concluded that this is likely to be only a small fraction of the true numbers.

India, China and Nepal ranked highest in the number of tiger part seizures, with India by far having the highest number at 275 seizures, representing between 469 and 533 tigers. The report also notes an increasing number of seizures in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam and identifies a number of hot-spots in the illicit trade, including the Myanmar-China and Russia-China borders.


Once widespread, the tiger survives in scattered populations across southern and southeast Asia, China and the Russian Far East.

Tiger parts are used in many cultures as good luck charms, decoration or in traditional medicines, with the animals symbolising strength, courage and luck. Tiger parts reported in trade ranged from complete skins, skeletons and even whole animals—live and dead, through to bones, meat, claws, teeth, skulls and other body parts. To illustrate the scale of this threat, World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said in 2009 that the global black market in wildlife products was worth about $10bn (£6bn) per year, making wildlife the third most valuable illicit commodity after drugs and weapons.

It is well documented that wild tiger numbers are in steep decline due to a combination of poaching and illegal trade in the animals, combined with habitat loss and encroachment, and excessive poaching of key prey species, such as sambar deer and gaur. A century ago there were around 100,000 wild tigers, but today the figure is believed to be as few as 3,200.


Human activities are the principal cause of declining tiger numbers. Poaching to meet the demand for tiger bones in Chinese medicine is perhaps its greatest threat.

The timely report comes as heads of governments from tiger range states prepare to meet at a tiger summit later this month in St. Petersburg, Russia to finalize the Global Tiger Recovery Program, a plan that aims to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022.  WWF aims to further highlight the fate of this charismatic mammal at the summit with their Tiger Summit Petition. Having already hit their target of 100,000 signatures, WWF hope to deliver the petition with the support of an incredible 150,000 people.


Perhaps the most iconic living species, conserving the tiger is vital in the fight against biodiversity loss.

The report also showed that despite millions of pounds being poured into the effort to save the tiger from extinction, wild populations of the world’s biggest cat continue to decline. It pointed to a “lack of political will among those responsible at national and international levels for protecting tigers” as being a key failing in our efforts thus far.

It is therefore evident that tigers must be afforded greater protection if they are to be saved, but as Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC, points out “good enforcement alone will not solve the problem, to save tigers in the wild concerted action is needed to reduce the demand for tiger parts altogether in key countries in Asia.”

Watch ARKive’s slideshow of 88 stunning tiger images here.

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To read the report and find out more about the illegal trade in wild tiger parts, see:

If you would like to sign WWF’s Tiger Summit Petition, please visit:

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author