International Affairs
International Affairs
Siberian tiger, Credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth

Tiger Conservation

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest and perhaps the best known of the wild cats.  It is also the most imperiled.  Nine subspecies of tiger are generally recognized, of which three are now considered extinct.  Although the tiger once ranged across Asia from eastern Turkey to the Russian Far East, it currently survives only in scattered populations from India to Viet Nam, south to Indonesia, and China and the Russian Far East.  The principal threats to wild tiger populations are illegal hunting and trade, loss of habitat, and a declining tiger prey base.  Additionally, the growing popularity and use of tiger parts and products in traditional medicine poses a significant threat to wild tiger populations.  By current estimates, there are only 3,200 to 3,500 tigers remaining in the wild worldwide. 

All six subspecies of tiger surviving in the wild today are endangered under the Endangered Species Act and the IUCN Red List. Tigers are also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), of which the United States is a member.

How the Wildlife Without Borders program is helping tigers:

Teachers for Tigers – Asia/Russia

Amur tiger in Russia, Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

To help build support for tiger conservation among young people, over 200 teachers in Russia have brought interactive tiger education into the classroom by emphasizing learning dramas, games, academic debates, art contests, mapping exercises, and mock conferences. As a result, this innovative conservation program is being adopted by schools in the vicinity of tiger habitat in India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Russia.

Smart Patrol – Thailand

Tiger, Credit: WCS-Thailand

Anti-poaching patrol teams tasked with reducing illegal hunting of tigers are using a new concept in patrol management. It combines GPS and GIS to better organize information produced by patrols. Now rangers can improve planning of future patrols and react more quickly to threats. This approach is being used in Thailand’s premier tiger habitats near the Burma border (Huai Kha Khaeng and Thaung Yai East and West Wildlife Sanctuaries).

Cross-Border Partnership – Russia/China

Russian Amur tiger, Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

Researchers have confirmed viable Siberian tiger habitat exists on both sides of the Russia-China border. However, until recently, tigers were largely restricted to the Russian side where they were less likely to encounter poachers. Wildlife Without Borders has supported removal of snares in China, use of advanced patrol techniques, as well as outreach to local communities on tiger conservation. As the impact of illegal hunting decreases, and new parks are established to protect Siberian tigers, their population is expected to grow and expand.

News & Publications:

- Stamp Out Extinction with the Tiger Stamp!

- Wildlife Without Borders-Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund

- Fact Sheet on Tiger Conservation (PDF)

- Fact Sheet on U.S. Efforts to Regulate Tiger Trade (PDF)

FAQs and Additional Resources:

- Donating to the Multinational Species Conservation Funds

- What U.S. laws and international agreements protect tigers?

- What U.S. enforcement efforts are being taken to control the trade in tigers?

What U.S. laws and international agreements protect tigers?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is the principal Federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Both the ESA and CITES afford protection to endangered species and wildlife of global concern.  The United States has worked tirelessly along with other CITES member countries to encourage the adoption of measures aimed at protecting wild tiger populations from poaching and illegal trade, and ensuring that breeding of tigers in captivity supports conservation goals.  The ESA specifically prohibits the interstate and foreign commerce in listed species, such as the tiger, and their parts and products without a permit or authorization from the Service.  The Service’s approximately 200 Special Agents and 120 Wildlife Inspectors within its Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) help control illegal trade and interstate sale of tigers and their part and products.

In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act (RTCA) to assist in the conservation of rhinoceroses and tigers by establishing the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund.  Through this fund, the Service supports anti-poaching programs, habitat and ecosystem management, development of nature reserves, wildlife surveys and monitoring, management of human-wildlife conflict, public awareness campaigns, and other conservation-related efforts for rhinoceroses and tigers.  More information on the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund can be found at 

The RTCA was amended in 1998 to prohibit the sale, importation, and exportation of products intended for human use containing, or labeled or advertised as containing, any substance derived from any species of rhinoceros or tiger.  The RTCA labeling provision authorizes OLE to seize tiger and rhinoceros products directly from vendors, distributors, shippers, or importers, and provides substantial criminal and civil penalties for violators.  In conjunction with CITES and the ESA, the RTCA is a powerful tool in combating the global trade in products containing tiger and rhinoceros parts.

What U.S. enforcement efforts are being taken to control the trade in tigers?

The Service investigates violations of U.S. wildlife laws and treaties that protect tigers and works to intercept illegal imports of tiger parts and products at the nation’s ports of entry.  In recent years, these efforts have included identifying, investigating, and intercepting Internet-based trafficking in “tiger commodities” such as live animals, skins, rugs, meat, claws, and medicinals.  Service casework has documented violations of the ESA, the Federal smuggling statute, and the RTCA.  

Policing the medicinal trade remains a priority.  Such products are among those commonly seized on import by Service wildlife inspectors.  In the 5-year period during 2005-2009, Service enforcement officers worked on more than 300 cases involving violations of the RTCA.  Service intelligence analysts recently launched a focused initiative to target potential commercial imports of Asian medicinals and assist inspectors at key ports of entry in screening “high risk” shipments for this type of trafficking.

Service officers conduct inspection sweeps of grocery stories and medicinal markets potentially selling tiger and other medicinals made from endangered species in cities that range from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Dallas/Fort Worth to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago.  Recent port-based inspection efforts have targeted medicinal shipments imported into Los Angeles via ocean cargo and medicinals arriving at international mail facilities in New York and Jersey City. 

The Service Office of Law Enforcement also works closely with enforcement counterparts around the world to address tiger trafficking.  Examples include sharing intelligence with foreign investigative agencies, maintaining liaison with the CITES Secretariat and Interpol, and providing training and investigative assistance on the ground to the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN).  In recent years, this partnership effort has included stationing a Service special agent in Bangkok as part of an ASEAN-WEN Support Program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.


Last updated: December 22, 2011
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