Environment Forum

Backyard tigers

ENVIRONMENT-TIGERS/Would you keep a tiger as a pet?

A puppy-sized tiger cub can be bought in the United States for as little as $200, and there are probably about 5,000 such backyard tigers across the country, about the same number of privately owned tigers in China, according to World Wildlife Fund.

That is far greater than the approximately 3,200 wild tigers worldwide, compared to the estimated 100,000 wild tigers a century ago. The growing number of these animals in captivity poses a threat to the species in the wild, WWF reports.

“People don’t realize when they buy a $200 tiger cub that it grows into a full-grown tiger, which means a huge enclosure and costs about $5000 a year just to feed,” says Leigh Henry, an animal conservation expert at WWF. “So you end up with a lot of unwanted animals that are very poorly regulated.”

These unwanted animals are a potent lure to poachers, who can use parts and products from these backyard tigers to sell on the lucrative black market. Because many of these beasts are untraceable — it can be tougher to adopt a dog from a U.S. animal shelter than to sell a privately owned tiger — many wind up in Asia, where tiger parts and products are used in traditional medicine.

The trade in these unwanted privately owned tigers can threaten wild tigers by feeding the market, Henry says.

Can Indiana Jones help save tigers?

World Bank President Robert Zoellick (L) and actor Harrison Ford take part in the launch of the Tiger Conservation Initiative at the National Zoo in Washington June 9, 2008. The initiative will bring together wildlife experts, scientists and governments to try to halt the killing and thriving illegal trade in tiger skins, meat and body parts used in traditional Asian medicines. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES)Indiana Jones and the World Bank sound like an odd couple to get anything done (“Quick, shoot that robber!” “Wait, we have to do a two-year feasibility study first!”) but are part of a new alliance trying to save the world’s tigers. (Read my colleague Leslie Wroughton’s fine story here)

Will it work? Tigers are under threat from loss of prey and habitats and a black market in tiger skins and bones.

And tiger numbers have plunged to about 4,000 today from more than 100,000 a century ago, according to the new International Tiger Coalition, led by the World Bank with backing from celebrities such as “Indiana Jones” star Harrison Ford, Bo Derek and Robert Duvall. Ford is a board member of Conservation InternationalA tiger at London Zoo peers through the bars of its cage, January 20, before a photo-call arranged to publicise Britain’s role in a global campaign to save the endangered species. Tiger numbers are dwindling worldwide, as the use of tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine increases. HP

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