Did you ever stop to wonder why some of the world’s most majestic animals are often also the most threatened species on Earth? The answer shouldn’t be shocking. The fact is that many of our most adored creatures also happen to be keystone species, meaning that they play a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem as a whole, functions. Often these species also tend to be at the top of the food chain and dependent upon intact, healthy ecosystems with large areas to roam. As such they are therefore also the most vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and destruction, for example.
Efforts to save these precious animals means that we are implicitly saving the entire ecosystem, along with all of the millions of other species in the plant and animal kingdoms where they reside. One of the best things you can do to protect these incredible creatures is to go see them in the wild, as ecotourism is one of the greatest conservation tools we have to encourage alternative forms of economic development that serves to keep habitat intact. Oh, and spoiler alert—you also get to have the adventure of a lifetime in doing so.
Over the next couple of months, we’ll take a look at a few of our favorite mega fauna that you can still witness in the wild, learn more about these amazing creatures, and maybe do our part to help them thrive on this planet.
From WWF: “Wild tiger numbers are at an all-time low. We have lost 97% of wild tigers in just over a century (three species have already gone extinct in this century). Tigers may be one of the most revered animals, but they are also vulnerable to extinction. As few as 3,200 exist in the wild today.” Wow.
The majestic Bengal tiger still exists in isolated populations throughout India, as well as in small pockets in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, Nepal and Bhutan, and along the eastern coast of China. These are areas that offer temperate to tropical climates, offering tiger habitat that include grasslands and deciduous forests to mangrove forests. While conservation efforts are on full steam ahead, there are still less than 2000 individuals thought to exist in the wild, and this is the least endangered of the subspecies.
The iconic and extremely endangered Siberian (Amur) tiger relies on a much thicker coat than its tropical cousin in order to guard it from the much more extreme cold northern temperatures. The few remaining tigers (estimates are at around 500 individuals) are found primarily in the forests of Eastern Russia, with a few in the northernmost parts of China and Korea. The coniferous and birch forests where Siberian tigers live can reach as low as -45° Celsius (-50 F). The Siberian is also slightly larger than its more tropical cousin, with adult males weighing up to 675 pounds.
Asian tigers continue to face unrelenting pressures from poaching, retaliatory killings and habitat loss, including deforestation for the Siberian, and increasing competition for space with dense, growing human populations in the case of the Bengal Tiger. Visit worldwildlife.org to learn more or even to symbolically adopt a tiger. And to experience one in real life while supporting conservation efforts through ecotourism, be sure to check out our wildlife adventures in India.