The world’s wild tiger population is in serious risk of vanishing completely. Since the early 20th century tigers have lost 93% of their habitat, a trend that has only accelerated in recent years. It seems that each bit of progress in tiger conservation is met with increased challenges.

For example: the recent spot of good news that China’s endangered Amur tigers (better known as the Siberian tiger) are experiencing a growth in population is tempered by the fact that the people who share the animal’s natural habitat fear for their own lives as well as those of their livestock. But these fears must be put into context.

The last time a human was killed by a Siberian tiger in China was 2002. The particular tiger had been pursued by hunters and was suffering due to an iron wire wrapped around its neck. Additionally, farmers receive compensation by the local government for livestock killed by tigers and as apex predators tigers actually decrease wolf populations in their territories, mitigating livestock losses due to other predatory species.

Totally chillin': A Siberian tiger in Harbin, China. Pic: myheimu (Flickr CC)

Totally chillin’: A Siberian tiger in Harbin, China. Pic: myheimu (Flickr CC)

We are also talking about some seriously low numbers. In 10 years China’s Siberian tigers have risen roughly 1 per year – from 12 to 22. The majority of the species live in Russia, but the total in the wild is estimated to number only 500 worldwide.

While it’s true that Siberian tigers sometimes kill livestock, according to scientists this is due to human intrusion into their habitat – an intrusion that increases and continues to this day.

From Xinhua News Agency:

We’ve found that some villagers purposely drive their livestock into the mountains for free grazing. That is an intrusion into the tigers’ habitat. The best way to protect tigers is to leave them alone.

–Zhu Jiang, director of the Northeast Program Office, WWF

Though conservation efforts are showing success, China’s laws in terms of animal welfare are far behind where they need to be. They are in fact far behind the opinions of much of the Chinese public, as a recent backlash against depictions of cruelty against Siberian tigers in Chinese zoos has shown.

Both video and photos of zoo visitors sitting on tiger cubs and even one slapping a cub’s head sparked rage among China’s “netizens”. The backlash resulted in one zoo financially penalizing a contracted animal troupe, but as of yet China has no animal cruelty laws.

Read more on that story from SAPA-AFP.

For more on China’s wild Siberian tigers, see this piece in the Guardian.