Statistics show that there are less than 4,000 tigers left in the wild. This is down from around 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century during the era of the British Raj. One of the keys to continual survival of the wild tiger population on the planet is genetic diversity. Healthy gene flow ensures vitality in the species. A lack of genetic diversity causes devastating problems including cardiac defects, less immunity to diseases, and lower rates of reproduction. Without an increase in genetic diversity, tigers could easily become completely extinct.
The main long-term cause of this lack of genetic diversity and endangerment to tiger populations is habitat loss. This loss of habitat has happened for various reasons. For instance, humans destroy and block off tiger habitats by clearing land for agriculture, logging forests, and building networks of roads. Additionally, one of the largest tiger habitats in the world, the Sundarbans mangrove forest between India and Bangladesh, is becoming inundated by rising sea levels brought about by global warming; it may soon disappear. Reduction in habitat leads to the tigers existing in isolated pockets of territory. Inbreeding decimates the remaining populations.
The most dangerous immediate threat to tiger populations around the world is poaching brought about by human cravings for tiger products. Many people see tiger parts, such as skins, as status symbols. Additionally, various parts of tiger bodies are made into traditional folk remedies and health tonics.
To combat the lack of genetic diversity in wild tiger populations, experts recommend the establishment of wildlife corridors. These would make it possible for tigers to travel long distances between landscapes with tiger populations. These corridors need to be protected areas with minimum human-tiger interaction. Genetic diversity can also be enhanced by crossbreeding tigers from the wild with tigers in zoos.
A key to tiger conservation and the enhancement of genetic diversity within tiger populations is cooperation of governments of countries that have tigers within their borders. Governments around the world also have to cooperate in ending the global trade of tiger parts and products made from tigers.