Unless governments take significant measures to protect tigers, they may go extinct by 2010, the World Wildlife Fund said Thursday.
The conservation group said tiger numbers have decreased 95 percent in the past century and only 5,000-7,200 tigers still survive in the wild -- compared with nearly 10 times that many at the start of the century.
WWF published an update Feb. 11 of their study Wanted Alive: Tigers in the Wild, marking the end of the Chinese Year of the Tiger.
The report states that despite sustained efforts over the past year, much remains to be done to prevent the tiger from becoming extinct early next century. If governments do not crack down on poaching and eliminate the demand for tiger products, the tiger will be stalked to extinction, says WWF.
"We cannot let up for one moment if we are to ensure that tigers will still exist in the wild by the next Chinese Year of the Tiger in 2010," said Elizabeth Kemf, species conservation information manager at WWF International and one of the authors of the report.
The group cites illegal hunting for the medicinal trade, loss of prey species, weak law enforcement, poaching, habitat loss and a shrinking gene pool as the other major threats facing the world's tiger population.
The WWF said one major success during 1998 was the passage of legislation by the U.S. Congress banning the import and sale of any product claiming to contain ingredients made of rhinoceros -- another endangered species -- or tiger parts.
In addition, WWF established a Tiger Emergency Fund, supported the Tiger Conservation Program in India, and worked in the Russian Far East.
Three of the eight subspecies of tiger -- the Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers are extinct. The South China tiger faces the same fate as only 20 or 30 are known to remain in the wild, down from an estimated 4,000 in the 1950s.
For more information, contact, Kyla Evans, WWF, +41 22 364 95 50, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.