This beautiful guy is called Bagai (affectionately known by us photographers as Baggie) and resides at Marwell Wildlife Park. He is around 18 months old and the keepers are hoping he will eventually breed with his wife-to-be Milla, after they are introduced to each other later this year. He is an Amur tiger (also known as Siberian tiger) and is characterised by his bold rusty-yellow colour with narrow black/brown stripes, short legs and long tail, and supple muscular body.
I have a strong affinity for my big-cat kin, particularly the tigers, because of their ongoing crusade to survive against the odds. There are now more Amur tigers in captivity than there are in the wild due to two main threats – poaching and habitat destruction. They are poached mainly to satisfy the demand for traditional oriental medicinal products made out of parts of the tiger. Some gruesome examples include crushed tiger bone added to wine as a tonic and eyeballs rolled into pills as a cure for convulsions. Revolting and totally without scientific basis. Habitat destruction is often the result of increased demand for land as the human population grows, as well as intensified logging and agriculture for economic reasons. Habitat destruction in their natural environments of the Russian Far East, China and the Korean peninsula has not only removed the vegetation itself, which affects the soil and water balance, but also removed a significant portion of the tigers’ prey species, making them hungry and less inclined to breed. Other threats include urban expansion, road construction, mining, fires and inadequate law enforcement.
There are nine recognised subspecies of tiger. Of these, the Caspian, Bali and Javan tigers are extinct and the South China tiger has not been sighted in the wild for over 25 years. The Indian or Bengal tiger is the most numerous but it is estimated that the total population is under 2,500 individuals. In the 1940s, the Amur tiger was on the brink of extinction, with no more than 40 individuals remaining in the wild. But thanks to vigorous anti-poaching and other conservation efforts in Russia with support from organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund, the population has recovered in the last decade and currently remains at around 400 individuals. It is predicted that there will be none left in the wild within the next decade if human-kind does not take drastic action to save them.
But fear not my friends, it is not all bad news. Big cats are prolific breeders and, given enough space, prey and protection, tigers can recover and re-claim their status as lord of the jungle. If you want to help, check out the WWF website for some ideas, such as sending an encouraging postcard to the rangers, the unsung heroes who work under harsh conditions on the frontlines to keep vulnerable wild tigers safe. One thing all humans can do is ensure that any items they buy do not contain wild animal parts or lead to the unethical treatment of wild animals. Check that your paper and wood products are certified, that food products use certified sustainable palm oil and that your coffee was grown in harmony with its environment.