National Geographic : 2011 Dec
A tiger leaps for a plastic bag tied to a pole while tourists watch at the controver- sial Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Visitors can pay to bottle-feed cubs, walk with tigers, and pose for photos with animals chained to the ground. silence. e common refrain of those who have witnessed---or survived---an attack is that the tiger "came from nowhere." But the other reason for the dearth of sight- ings is that the ideal tiger landscapes have very few tigers. e tiger has been a threatened spe- cies for most of my lifetime, and its rareness has come to be regarded matter-of-factly, as an intrinsic, de ning attribute, like its dramatic coloring. e complacent view that the tiger will continue to be "rare" or "threatened" into the foreseeable future is no longer tenable. In the early 21st century, tigers in the wild face the black abyss of annihilation. " is is about making decisions as if we're in an emergency room," says Tom Kaplan, co-founder of Panthera, an organi- zation dedicated to big cats. " is is it." e tiger's enemies are well-known: Loss of habitat exacerbated by exploding human popula- tions, poverty---which induces poaching of prey animals---and looming over all, the dark threat of the brutal Chinese black market for tiger parts. Less acknowledged are botched conservation strategies that for decades have failed the tiger. Caroline Alexander wrote about Anglo-Saxon treasure in the November issue. Photographer Steve Winter serves as Panthera's media director.