We’ve loved them. We’ve hated them. We want to protect them. We want to protect ourselves from them.
However, reverence for tigers, along with their numbers, began to dwindle with the rise of industrialization and expanding human populations. The resulting competition for land and resources pit tigers and people against one another. The big cat went from being admired to being seen as an unwelcome guest.
New technology was also a catalyst for the rise in trophy hunting, ushering in a massive power shift. Tigers were no longer to be feared. They were to fear us. Furthermore, the majestic creatures were downgraded to mere objects for us to use and trade. Ironically, while people no longer saw living tigers as valuable or auspicious, the belief in the power of their body parts, including their teeth, claws, fur, and bones, made them prime targets.
Coupled with habitat loss, poaching decimated tiger populations. By the end of the 20th century, all subspecies had either been wiped out or were on the brink of extinction.
Fortunately for tigers, and for us, global environmental movements gained traction before the big cats were eradicated completely. In recent decades, we’ve continued to see a wave of conservation efforts. And while those same threats remain, tiger numbers in many places are rebounding thanks to anti-poaching efforts, the creation of reserves, and the animal’s protected status.
Our view of tigers, however, is still evolving in a way that could undermine what we’ve accomplished in conservation. The newfound affinity we have for these animals has led us down a slippery slope toward exploitation with tigers now forced to pose with tourists for selfies.