- The tiger is the largest of the Asian big cats.
- The tiger population has decreased by about 95 percent since 1900. There are only around 4,000 tigers in the wild.
- All commercial tiger trade has been banned since 1987 by an international treaty, but national trade is subject to each country's laws.
- China outlawed domestic tiger trade in 1993, but entrepreneurs there have bred more than 5,000 tigers in captivity – more than exist in the wild – in the hopes that they can get the Chinese government to lift its ban.
- In 2007, as the result of a campaign by WWF, TRAFFIC and the International Tiger Coalition, the international treaty convention charged with regulating international trade in endangered species approved a resolution opposing the raising of tigers for commercial trade. Still the breeding centers continue to operate.
But a threat is growing from commercial facilities in China that have bred more than 5,000 tigers in captivity for the purpose of reigniting trade in tiger products. The owners of these facilities, called "tiger farms", are pressuring Chinese authorities to lift the country's successful 16-year-old ban and let them legally sell tiger products.
With as few as 20 in the wild in China, the country's tigers are a few gun blasts away from extinction, and in India poachers are making quick work of the tiger population, the world's largest. The number there, around 1,400, is about half that of a decade ago and a fraction of the 100,000 that roamed the subcontinent in the early 20th century.
Shrinking habitat remains a daunting challenge, but conservationists say the biggest threat to Asia's largest predator is the Chinese appetite for tiger parts. Despite a government ban on the trade since 1993, there is a robust market for tiger bones, traditionally prized for their healing and aphrodisiac qualities, and tiger skins, which have become cherished trophies among China's nouveau riche.
With pelts selling for $20,000 and a single paw worth as much as $1,000, the value of a dead tiger has never been higher, say those who investigate the trade. Last month the Indian government announced a surge in killings of tigers by poachers, with 88 found dead in 2009, double the previous year. Because figures are based on carcasses found on reserves or tiger parts seized at border crossings, conservationists say the true number is far higher.
"All of the demand for tiger parts is coming from China," said Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. "Unless the Chinese change their attitude, the tiger has no future on this earth."