2010 is not the year of the tiger

February 14, 2010 saw the start of the Chinese “Year of the Tiger”. The thing is, it isn’t. It will never be the Year of the Tiger until we have adequate space and protection for them in the wild and a real understanding of the problems they face in captivity.

There will be those who recently read and assured themselves that there are 6,000 tigers in captivity in China. That’s almost double the entire wild population! Add that to the 3,000 Tigers that are in private hands in Texas alone, and it seems the tiger has nothing to worry about. There are also Tigers in other places. It’s not just Texas in the US, as it is estimated that there may be as many as 5,000 ‘American’ tigers. All other countries also have their quota. Europe, South America, Asia, Australasia and the Middle East all have Tigers. There are lots and lots of tigers.

The tiger is threatened not only by habitat destruction and poaching, but also by irresponsible captive breeding. There is one species of tiger and six surviving subspecies. These are the bengal tiger tigris panther tigrisamur tiger Panthera tigris altaicathe south china tiger Panthera tigris amoyensisthe indochinese tiger panthera tigris corbettiSumatran tiger panthera tigris sumatrae and the malayan tiger Panthera tigris jacksoni.

Three other subspecies, the Java tiger Panthera tigris sondaicabali tiger panthera tigris balica and the caspian tiger Panthera tigris virgata they have become extinct in the last sixty years or so.

Today, there are only about 3,200 tigers left in the wild, spread in varying numbers across Malaysia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Within the good and reputable zoos of the world, there are sincere and genuine efforts to keep these subspecies apart. Each has its own herd book and the available gene pool is managed by genuine and caring professionals with the long-term future of that species or sub-species in mind. No one fools himself that only a small number will be released into the wild, if any, while the problems in the wild still exist. Today’s zoos look a hundred years ahead, to a period when we cannot currently predict the state of the planet.

Subspecies kept in captivity are instantly recognizable as tigers even to the novice eye. Put them in adjoining enclosures and subspecific differences will become apparent. These are animals that have been shaped by nature over many thousands of years. Time has eliminated the weak features. These are animals that have been naturally selected by nature to survive in their environment. At one end we have the small Sumatran tiger with short dark hair panthera tigris sumatrae ideal for the dark tropical moist forests of Sumatra. In the other we have the large, light-colored, long-haired Amur tiger. Panthera tigris altaica which suits the snowy wastelands of eastern Russia. They are what they are due to natural selection.

Within managed captive tiger populations, money does not change hands. Tigers are moved between collections for the consideration and welfare of the population as a whole. Breeding pairs are carefully selected. An unnatural selection made with an understanding of nature’s choice. Breeding is limited and the health and welfare of both the animals and the population are important. Parental upbringing is one of the main considerations.

Outside of the world-renowned zoos, we have the bad zoos and tiger farms that don’t take into account tiger subspecies or any other animals. All they really care about is having a tiger or tigers. They reproduce from brother to sister to mother to son. They don’t mind crossing a bengal tiger tigris panther tigris with any other subspecies that may be at hand. Records are not kept. The more pups they can produce, the happier they will be. Nobody knows or cares in such collections. Yet these places have the audacity to excuse their crimes and talk about conservation and reintroduction programs when they have absolutely no idea of ‚Äč‚Äčeither concept. What is really sad is that in some countries the officials in charge of wildlife departments don’t understand either. There is a real danger that some of these animals could be released by people working together on the assumption that since it has stripes, so is a tiger, so it must be fine. it is not

No one in their right mind would drop Polar Bears Ursus maritimus in the jungles of Malaysia or sun bears Helarctos malayanus in Arctic debris. It would be equally insane to consider releasing hybrids of the two in any setting. They would be clearly inappropriate. The example may seem a bit extreme, but it’s not that far removed from what some of these disreputable collections are doing and talking about. They are even crossing Lions with Tigers (Ligers) and Tigers with Lions (Tigons). We have known that these hybrids can be bred in captivity for over a hundred years. What are they trying to prove? Where the hell do they expect to release such animals?

There are those who argue that crossbreeding of subspecific tigers can introduce “hybrid vigor” into a population. The fact that it has already been done in some cases by reputable people does not make it correct. It is just as easy to view such an act as genetic contamination and a dilution of necessary physical attributes that nature has taken eons to establish and perfect. Tigers are not ordinary peas. Pisum sativum. This is not one of Mendel’s experiments with plants. These are living, warm-blooded mammals that breathe.

Then we have that group of zoos that continue to breed white tigers. Undeniably beautiful, but often wrongly touted as a rare endangered species, which they most definitely are not. White tigers are completely genetically messed up with most having flaws like crossed eyes and the like. They then go on to promote them as rare or endangered. This would be a bit of a joke if it wasn’t actually an outright lie. There are probably as many white tigers in captivity as there are wild tigers of normal colors in all of India. To top it off, they are almost all cross breeds between the Bengal and Amur tigers. These animals will never be released into the wild by any competent authority.

There is a place for some white tigers in captivity because, after all they have done, they are very rarely found in the wild within India. A genuine naturally produced white tiger in the hands of a zoo actively participating in an approved and regulated breeding program would be valuable not only genetically but also as an educational tool. White tigers, as they exist today, are nothing more than a commercial attraction to attract the public. Any other color would give the zoo a bad reputation as long as it is not natural.

The real threat to the world’s tigers is not just the problems they face in the wild (although these should not be dismissed as critically important), but the huge unrecorded, unmanaged and genetically damaged populations kept in captivity on tiger farms. and in second and third category zoos.

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