where more than 100,000 wild tigers roamed the forests and grasslands of asia as recently as 100 years ago, today less than 3,200 tigers remain, and of those, less than a third are breeding females. though they’re quickly disappearing from the region, their presence dates back millions of years. all modern cats originated in southeast asia.
the causes of the decline are varied: the illegal wildlife trade, where poachers earn tens of thousands of dollars per tiger selling their parts for use in traditional asian medicines; humans over hunting the tiger’s natural prey; and human encroachment on their lands, leaving tigers only tiny pockets of isolated territory and forcing them into human contact. tigers now occupy only seven percent of their historic range.
steve winter has spent a decade in search of the remaining wild tigers, from myanmar’s leech infested jungles to the forbidden realm of poachers in sumatra, in the hopes of not only documenting the majestic animals but spuring global concern through his images. the photos have now been published in “tigers forever: saving the world’s most endangered big cat,” created in collaboration with panthera, the world’s largest big cat conservation organization.
the group’s mission is to increase tiger numbers by 50 percent throughout asia over a ten year period. only six tiger subspecies remain: bengal, indochinese, malayan, sumatran, siberian, and the south-china, which exists only in captivity. all are endangered. the last cambodian tiger died out in 2010, following the extinction of the javan and caspian tigers in the 1970s and the bali tiger in the 1940s.
in contrast, at least 5,000 captive tigers are privately owned in the united states, where a patchwork of lax federal laws and little to no state mandated regulatory oversight has fulled the black market trade in body parts and meant the animals often live miserable, permanently caged lives. (nature of things documentary, “the american tiger”)