Of all the big cats, tigers are the closest to extinction. Their conservation is a massive project that has people from all over the world coming together to try and save these beautiful animals. International Tiger Day was created in order to call attention to the important and necessary conservation happening to help save tiger populations from extinction.
The Akron Zoo’s Lehner Family Foundation Wild Asia is home to two Sumatran tigers, Eko and Diburu. Eko is the son of previous Akron Zoo tiger, Kami, who currently lives at the Oklahoma City Zoo, while Diburu came to us from San Diego Safari Park. Eko and Diburu are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)’s Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP is an important part of tiger conservation, with the aim to increase tiger populations and genetic diversity in human care.
Sadly, all tiger species are critically endangered. As of today, only about 3,900 tigers can be found in their native habitat, which is largely located in India, and only about 400 of those are Sumatran tigers. According to the zoo’s lead tiger keeper, Tyler McCullough, there are several threats to tigers in their native habitat.
“The greatest threat to native tigers is human poaching and hunting,” McCullough said. “Other threats include habitat loss, deforestation and loss of prey.”
All of these things drive the population down, reducing it to just 4% of what it used to be. Since tigers are considered trophy hunts by poachers, they are highly sought after, though conservationists try hard to protect them.
According to McCullough, the extinction of tigers would hurt forest ecosystems. Tigers are both apex predators and a keystone species, which means their hunting activity keeps the small-prey population in check. Without them, small animals would overpopulate and overwhelm the ecosystem by overgrazing, which is detrimental to plant life.
Despite all of this, tigers are still magnificent and fascinating animals. One of McCullough’s favorite facts about them is that all tiger’s stripes are different – much like a human fingerprint! They are also fantastic swimmers and love the water.
So from all of us at the Akron Zoo, happy International Tiger Day! Visit us to learn more about our own tigers and conservation efforts. You may even catch a glimpse of Eko and Diburu swimming on hot days when you visit!