Tigers may become extinct within a decade: Here's how to see them ethically, and support their survival

17th Jan 19 | Lifestyle

This magnificent, iconic creature might be on its last legs. Here's how to be part of the solution, and see tigers at the same time.

It is almost impossible to imagine a world without tigers.

From the works of William Blake and Rudyard Kipling, to the beds of almost any child that’s ever owned a soft toy, these apex predators dominate our imaginations as much as they do their own ecosystems.

By far the largest of the world’s big cats (excluding the 800lb ‘liger’ – a hybrid of lion and tiger), it seems almost counter-intuitive that anything could threaten these giants of the wild.

Unfortunately, as a species, they’re horribly threatened. International wildlife charity Born Free forecasts that, after a population decline of 96% over the past century, tigers could be facing extinction within the next 10 years.

You want to see tigers – of course you do, everyone does – but you know that animal tourism can be damaging and exploitative, particularly in countries with poor regulation. Here’s the lowdown on tiger-based tourism…

Tiger cub
A member of a pivotal new generation (Thinkstock/PA)

Is it ethical to participate in tiger tourism?

A lot of the time, no. A cautionary tale comes from Tiger Temple in Thailand, a tourist Mecca run by Buddhist monks that allowed visitors to enter the cages of their charges and pet the apparently docile creatures.

Then a police raid in 2016 made a grisly discovery: 40 tiger cub corpses stashed in a freezer, 20 more suspended in jars of formaldehyde, and a cache of disembodied parts.

Bengal tiger in the jungle
In the forests of the night… (Thinkstock/PA)

Professor Claudio Sillero, chief scientist at Born Free and research fellow at Oxford University, is very clear on what makes tiger tourism conscionable. “I’m very in favour of nature-based tourism,” he says, “which has benefits not only for the animals but also for the people living side by side with tigers. But they have to be wild tigers.”

Taking a ‘tiger selfie’ is out; petting them is definitely out; just seeing them in an enclosure is seriously suspect.  Is it ever ethical to travel to see tigers in captivity? “No. It is not.”

Unfortunately, this restricts you to locations with wild tigers – and the whole problem is that there aren’t many of those. “Central India is the sole place, really, where people should go to have a chance of seeing tigers,” says Sillero. “The Indian government regulations are very strict and put wildlife first.”

Bengal tiger being photographed

The Rajasthani reserve of Ranthambore is perhaps the best known, but it’s one of more than a dozen parks offering guilt-free tiger tours. Regulations are the same across the board, so questions should centre on your operator: Are they clued up on tiger welfare? Do they harass animals in the hunt for views or shots? All tourism can cause some disruption, but, as Professor Sillero says, when done properly, thoughtfully and ethically, “the benefit outweighs the nuisance”.

What can you do about it?

If you’re moved by the tiger’s plight (and after Dynasties how could you not be?) there are things you can do to help.

“Most obviously, you can contribute financially,” says Sillero, “but also you can use social media to promote the cause, and encourage people in countries with tigers to live with tigers hand-in-hand.”

© Press Association 2019