Global conservation organisation WWF today sounded an alarm over poaching of tigers and said that at an average, two wild cats are killed per week due to high demand of their body parts in Asian countries.
It also said wild tigers were facing the risk of extinction in some countries due to a lack of accurate information on their population.
"Poaching is the greatest threat to wild tigers today. Along with ivory and rhino horn, tiger parts are in high demand throughout Asia," WWF said in a release coinciding with Global Tiger Day.
It said that statistics from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, show that a minimum of 1590 tigers were "seized" between January 2000 and April 2014.
"That represents an average of two per week. However, actual poaching levels are likely to be substantially higher," WWF said.
"It is feared that countries not carrying out national tiger surveys could lose their tigers to poachers without realising. This may already be the case for some countries," it said.
Currently, wild tiger numbers are known for India, Nepal and Russia which carry out regular national surveys. Numbers will soon be known for Bhutan, Bangladesh and China which are in the process of carrying out surveys.
Wild tiger populations for Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam are unknown, WWF said.
At the 2010 St. Petersburg 'Tiger Summit' when tiger range countries committed to the goal Tx2 - doubling wild tigers by 2022, the global wild tiger population was believed to be as few as 3200.
"This figure was just an estimate," Michael Baltzer, leader of WWF Tigers Alive Initiative, said.
"In 2010, many countries had not undertaken systematic national tiger surveys. Now many have or are doing so, but not all, leaving major, worrying gaps in our knowledge. Until we know how many tigers we have and where they are, we can't know how best to protect them," he said.
According to Indian officials, tiger population in India at present stands at over 1,700.
WWF has called on countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to carry out surveys urgently.
Systematic national surveys take 6-12 months to plan and a minimum of a year to complete, so these surveys must start now if an updated global tiger figure is to be released by the halfway point to Tx2 in 2016.
"We are more than a third of the way to 2022. We need to move at a faster, more determined pace if we hope to achieve the Tx2 goal," Baltzer added.
During surveys, individual tigers are identified using their stripes which are as unique as human fingerprints. The surveys show tiger populations, locations and trends.
In the past, surveys have revealed tigers living outside protected areas or moving between protected areas through previously unknown and unprotected corridors.
Having this information enables governments to effectively focus their anti-poaching efforts.
National tiger surveys are expensive, labour intensive and often take place in difficult terrain with challenging weather conditions.
All these factors are barriers to governments completing the work. However, the returns outweigh the investment and NGOs are willing to work with governments to share technical expertise and explore potential funding sources including international and private environment granting institutions. Tigers are endangered. The wild tiger population has dropped 97 per cent over the last hundred years.
WWF was a driving force behind the 'Tiger Summit' and remains a major force behind the global Tx2 goal.
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