Tiger Missing Link Foundation estimates that there are fewer than 2,500 individual tigers now remaining in the wild (2013 estimates show a severe decline from the original 100,000 tigers TIGER MISSING LINK FOUNDATION – WERNER 2011).
These remaining tigers are threatened by many factors, including growing human populations, loss of habitat, illegal hunting of the tiger and of the species they hunt, and expanded trade in tiger parts for traditional medicines. Foreign and Statehood politics further decimate the wild populations.
Within captivity, there are now 2,816 tigers (2013 population shows a severe decline from the 5,000 captive tigers from the mid 1990’s TIGER MISSING LINK FOUNDATION – WERNER 2011).
The decline of captive tigers may be contributed to poor or inadequate breeding programs, untrained or inexperienced keepers, and overall improper husbandry. However, the single and most devastating threat to captive tigers today is the contributors of an onslaught against captive management. This is mainly brought forward by Animal Rights Activists that creates social, political and legislative falsehoods against the captive tiger population.
All of these issues are adding to the ailing tiger's plight for survival. And we at Tiger Link are addressing all of these concerns in order to help reposition tigers for their own survival! We accomplish this in several ways that are laid out and presented in our programs and through this website. We need everyone to understand that every tiger matters when it comes to saving a species from extinction!
Our captive tiger conservation efforts involve the support of DNA testing, genetic management, sound husbandry practices of unknown tiger populations within the private sector and the implementation of a captive managed program known as the Tiger Species Enhancement Plan (TSEP TM).
Tiger Link is working to identify the sub-specific affiliations and relationships of these unknown tigers through the support of DNA testing and genetic research. The Tiger SEPTM has been recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous other conservators as a viable alternative to captive management. The foundation does not currently recommend any breeding of captive tigers at this time. It is pertinent that genetic research and DNA testing be conducted prior to the implementation of any breeding program.
Beyond the concerns for the captive population, there is a need to monitor the status of wild tiger populations, the effects of current removal rates from the wild populations, and the contribution these tigers can make to captive populations. All populations, however large or small, are at some risk of extinction. The smaller the population, the more likely it will occur. Countering the trend toward even smaller populations of wild tigers requires that conservationists develop interactive strategies for managing fragmented wild populations and for using captive populations for backup and support.
These technologies should not be viewed as a resolution to the extinction process but as additional alternatives for the long-term conservation of the species.
The most promising method of distinguishing tiger subspecies is through molecular DNA technology. As of today, this technology is only in its infancy, is relatively expensive, and has limited availability. Because the subspecies issue is so critical to determining evolutionary significant units (significant to the management of populations), the Tiger Global Conservation Strategy (TGCS) supports continued research to clarify taxonomic distinctness of extant taxa, including: a) distinction between P.t.tigris and P.t.corbetti; b) distinction between P.t.sumatrae and mainland forms; c) distinction between P.t.altaica and southern forms; and d) estimation of genetic diversity among fragmented wild tiger populations.
The most promising advancements occurred at National Institutes of Health under Dr. Stephen J O'Brien and his associates. Today the most active research is being conducted at Texas A&M University under Geneticist Brian Davis.
[Excerpts derived from Management and Conservation of Captive Tigers, Pantheratigris, written in part by Dr. Ronald Tilson - Retired, IUCN/SSC CBSG Tiger Global Animal Survival Plan Coordinator and AZA Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) Coordinator]. Courtesy of the Tiger Information Center 1995 – Now disbanded.
The research approach and applied methods of Tiger Link teaches us all a greater understanding of the tiger's needs for long-term survival. With modern day advancements involving biotechnology, we are able to see the animals in ways that they never before have been seen. We are then able to apply the interpretations of this data as an effort toward conserving their genetic divergence. This divergence acts as an insurance policy guaranteeing life for generations if properly managed. We do all of this without harm to the animals: blood samples derive from routine annual physicals; hair samples come from natural shedding during the summer months; and stool samples can be collected from the compound.
We present an overview of molecular techniques available for pursuing population, taxonomic, and phylogenetic questions, with a special emphasis on the latest PCR-based technologies of DNA sequencing and micro satellites and on the computer programs available for analysis of molecular genetic data. The intent of Tiger Link is to share an interest in conservation as well as a common goal of learning and applying conservation genetics in the management of endangered species, more specifically the tiger. This principle through management of captive tigers ensures the tigers' survival by taking them beyond extinction. The implementation of a sound genetic managed program of captive tigers is needed for the enhancement of propagation. This will allow us to retain the maximum genetic diversity possible for living populations, thus ensuring the tiger's survival.
Although tigers seem numerous in captivity, surprisingly little medical data has been published on them and even less research conducted. Most published reports concern medical problems that are preventable, given the present state of the science of veterinarian medicine, namely dietary related deficiencies and diseases or viral infections. Our approach is to serve as an overall resource to assist in the gathering of scientific information for enhanced veterinarian care and research for the tiger, not only to minimize disease but to improve overall viability.
An example of the foundation's role in this area is where recently we assisted a chemical ecologist working at the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center, and more recently, at the USDA's Laboratory of Insects Affecting Man. The main project was to collect and extract vertebrate, skin, hair, and feather samples to test the reactions of various arthropod ectoparasites. Tiger Missing Link Foundation was instrumental in providing samples from large cats. The foundation facilitated the obtaining of hair and skin samples from captive carnivores. The ultimate goal of this project, which involved collaboration with the Department of Defense, is to identify naturally produced arthropod repellents (insect repellents).
Additionally, the agency works with scientists by providing blood samples, genetic materials, and various other biological products through exchanges that assist researchers in helping both people and the animals.