There are many reasons why a tiger can die. Diseases, natural disasters, old age. But the main cause are humans.
1. Deadly love-hate relationship
The tiger is a beautiful animal. Many people think the tiger is the most beautiful animal in the world. Competitions/contests are often organized and the tiger is always among the most popular animals. This is not a new thing, but a immemorial phenomenon. People instantly fall in love with when they see a tiger, usually in a book or on the internet. In love with the characteristic head, the splendid colors and its graceful walk. These features combined with the unpredictable behavior of tigers often make people become mesmerized by the tiger.
On the other hand, man has always hated tigers as it was invincible for a long time. It’s slick, fast and extremely deadly. But guns, cars and other technological devices did not exist for a long time and in those times people didn’t dare to get into the jungle, in fear of being attacked by the tiger.
So, the tiger used to be the boss. Humans lived in their world and the tiger had his own habitat. And they both respected that. Until the moment humans started to develop themselves in a fast pace. One important element was that man learned at first to defend themselves with firearms and later understood that they also could attack tigers with them. The tiger was no longer seen as a valued enemy for which they had respect, but as a piece of game that could be hunted.
This ‘hate-love’-feeling has not changed over the centuries. Man still hate tigers because the tiger tiger is still cunning, fast and deadly. And man still loves the tiger because of all the aspects mentioned. The difference with the past is that this love is no longer a distant love. The tiger is more and more lost in cages of zoos and circuses, or hangs as a head on the wall or as a carpet on the ground or is in backyards of people’s homes.
One of the most bizarre aspects of the story of the tiger is the improbable belief in the benefits of tiger parts. We all know the myth that tiger pills improves virility. But do you know that it is also believed that the tail of the tiger would be good for curing skin disease? Or that tiger blood would be good for (mental) strength? The teeth are believed to be good for the treatment of asthma and of the eye of the tiger is supposed to cure malaria. For almost every disease seems to be a cure. Some people even believe tiger ingredients can get you immortal.
In earlier days, medical science was not as advanced as today. There was a “medicine man” (former doctor) and he did his best, as current doctors do just the same now, with the knowledge of today. The tiger was especially adored by kings, maharajas, war lords and emperors. This aspect made the tiger even more special as ordinary people worshipped their leaders. That special aspect was used by shamans, doctors and quacks to ‘cure’ people. A disease has often a psychophysiological aspect and the faith in tigers and its ingredients often worked in that way. Like doctors use placebo’s nowadays to patients.
Especially in countries like China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam there is still belief in the ‘sacred functions’ of tiger medicines. The black market for tiger ointments or pills is a big source for money although western and oriental medical science already have unmasked it.
The Chinese mafia knows how it works. They really understand the Chinese culture and they greatly benefit from the ancient folklore. And they outperform NGOs in animal marketing so their efforts are much more effective.
You could even speak of the greatest scams of all time.
With the foregoing in mind it is not surprising to see that certain people use tigers for getting status. There are many rich people (sheiks, oil barons) that have a tiger in a private zoo. Secretly. You can see the worshipping of tigers often in small things. People like to wear clothes with something of the tiger in it, have a tiger skin on the floor or a head on the wall. Wear an amulet of tiger teeth. And today in China it is highly rewarding to give well respected businessmen, diplomatic personnel and military commanders tiger wine, made from the bones of tigers. With prices even up to $ 1500 a bottle.
Especially in China the tiger has become a status symbol.
4. Explosive growth and prosperity increase number of people
In the past 100 years, the number of people in the 30 countries where tigers once lived or still live quadrupled. It used to be 1 billion around 1900, already an amazing amount of people. In 2015 4 billion live in these countries.
The United Nations has predicted the world will have 9.8 billion people in 2050 (now 7,4 billion). There are also forecasts of 28 billion. All those people have to eat, drink, live and work.
Also the prosperity in these countries over the past 100 years increased significantly.
All of this makes sure the tiger will lose more and more habitat to man. They already lost 93 percent. And it is to be expected that the pressure on so-called ‘tiger territories’ will increase tremendously in the coming years. Why? In the first place, because people need the space to live. And secondly because the tiger seems to have a fancy on living in areas that contain materials, in demand by humans (wood, play oil, mining).
5. Wildlife crime
The market for products wildlife has exploded in recent years. Organised crime has discovered that this market yields lots of money. Also it takes much less effort on their part in relation to the trafficking in drugs, human beings and weapons. Why? Because the demand is high, law enforcement in most areas is poor and the detection means are limited. Furthermore, if you get caught you rarely get convicted.
How big is this black market wildlife crime anyway? That is hard to say because it’s a black market. Estimates vary but it is believed that the market is at least USD 20 billion. An immense amount. Did you know the price of a kilo of ivory is twice as high than the price of a kilo of gold? A tiger on the black market, if exploited in a smart way, will make $ 400,000 and even more.
Insane numbers and prices. And only because some of the Chinese people still believe in the powers of tiger products or think their status will rise as they own, eat or use tiger products (or other wildlife products). Of course being helped by the Chinese mafia.
Apart from the above causes, there is a factor that is often underestimated: corruption. In the 12-14 countries where tigers still live corruption is a part of everyday life. Bribing government or government employees is not uncommon and therefore it is almost impossible to reach agreements that will be honored. Although many people abhor corruption, it turns out to be very difficult to break the system.