11 Majestic Tigers Found in Nature, in Captivity, and in Memories
Fewer than 4,000 of these big cats still live in the wild, and three of the nine subspecies have gone extinct since the 1930s. But careful tiger management in South Asia and the Russian Far East are helping their numbers start to rebound.
When a young Amur tiger named Vladik was found wandering in the city of Vladivostok in the fall of 2016, he became a local celebrity. He was captured and moved to the Amur Tiger Center for rehabilitation, and then released into a national park seven months later. Since then, the center has tracked his whereabouts via his radio collar, and even though he’s traveled far and wide, he’s stayed clear of humans. “There’s no evidence or messages from locals that he’s been seen near villages or towns,” says Shorshin. “What I find more interesting is that Vladik has passed some places (wide, busy roads; railroads; etc.) that were considered to be a huge obstacle not only for tigers but all animals. And he was never spotted.”
The unusual coloration pattern was first recorded among Bengal tigers in India at least 400 years ago, but none have been seen in the wild since 1958. They’re common in zoos and among performers, however, but all the white tigers alive today are believed to have been selectively bred from a male cub that was captured in 1951—many suffer from birth defects (particularly crossed eyes) as a result of the inbreeding.
Courtesy Cinema Libre Studio
Few circuses use tigers in live performances anymore—Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus put on its last show in 2017—but there was a time when big cats were a major attraction under the big top, and Mabel Stark made history as the first female tiger trainer, more than a hundred years ago. A 2018 documentary by Leslie Zemeckis tells her story, including accounts of her many unpleasant run-ins with the trainees. “There was almost no flesh on her legs,” an acquaintance says in the film.
Even without performing big cats, though, the WWF estimates that more tigers live in captivity in the United States (possibly 5,000) than live in the wild altogether—and only about 6 percent of them are in zoos or other accredited facilities. The rest live in backyard pens, truck stops, private breeding facilities, and even apartments. Such tigers can never be introduced to the wild, Goodrich says.
Goodrich says that although poaching and other threats to tigers are still major obstacles to their recovery, we shouldn’t give up. “I’m starting to feel a bit optimistic, looking at it from trade standpoint rather than poaching on the ground,” he says. “A number of people I’ve talked to recently with lots of experience in China think the younger generations are changing, becoming more environmentally aware and shunning the use of wildlife products.” If protection and repopulation projects like those in South Asia and the Russian Far East continue to outpace the efforts of poachers and developers, the big cats might manage to hang around. Find out the 12 endangered baby animals that are making a comeback in the world.