3,000 years of East Asian history in Korea, China, Japan, Mongolia, and Russia

Save the Tiger!

Just how did the tiger get its stripes?

An ancient Vietnamese myth tells of a man who once tried to show the great beast just who is boss by tying the tiger to a tree and setting the tree ablaze.

The powerful cat was so accustomed to pain that it strained against the burning ropes until it finally broke free. The black streaks seared on its fur remained as the only visible evidence of the animal's near extinction.


The Korean History Project's premiere feature, Korea in the Eye of the Tiger, takes its name from the most graceful and beautiful of animals, the great Siberian Tiger, the world's largest living cat. An adult male Siberian Tiger can grow to a length of 9 to 12 feet measured from head to tail and weigh up to 650 lbs.

This solitary hunter once roamed a vast territory throughout Asia, from eastern Turkey across East Asia, including Manchuria, the Amur-Ussuri River basins in Siberia and all of Korea, from Mt. Paektusan in the north to Chollanam Province in the south.

Many Siberian tigers were captured in Korea prior to World War II, including:

five tigers at Musan in 1935
two tigers at Kosan in 1924 and 1929
one tiger at the Pulgapsa Temple in Chollanam Province in 1911
one tiger on Mt. Karisan, Kangwon Province in 1918
one tiger at Kyongju in 1922
one tiger at Pukchin, Pyonganbuk Province, in 1930

After 1922, there were no recorded tiger captures in South Korea, where the species is virtually extinct. Many believe that any surviving Korean tigers now roam the rugged terrain of Mt. Paektusan in North Korea.

Although recent surveys have given rise to a renewed sense of optimism among conservationists, the world's tiger population is still in real trouble according to data compiled by the World Conservation Union/Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC), an internationally recognized group dedicated to the conservation of wild cats.

Mr. Peter Jackson, Chairman of the Cat Specialist Group, has compiled data from reports by specialists in tiger range countries on the status and distribution of 36 species of wild cat. He estimates that there are perhaps 5,000 to 7,000 tigers left in all Asia. No one knows just how many tigers once lived on the Asian continent, but it is estimated that a century ago the number was perhaps ten times greater than today.

Sadly, many species of tiger have become extinct over the years.

The Bali tiger, which once lived on Bali, disappeared with the killing of the last tiger in 1937.

The Caspian tiger, which once ranged in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Mongolia, and the Central Asiatic area of Russia, probably went extinct in the 1950s.

The Javan tiger, once native to the Indonesian island of Java, was last seen in 1972. Today, the remaining five subspecies of tigers are being threatened with virtual extinction like never before.

As of November 1996, there were probably between 2,500 and 3,750 Bengal (Indian) tigers remaining in India, where the animal is actively poached. Between 300 and 460 Bengal tigers exist in Bangladesh, 50 to 240 in Bhutan, and only 30 to 35 in China.

The IUCN/SSC estimates that about 1,180 to 1,790 Indochinese tigers have survived heavy poaching in southeast Asia. Perhaps 100 to 200 tigers live in Cambodia, while as few as 30 to 40 are known to roam the wilds of China. The largest single Indochinese tiger population of 600 to 650 animals lives in Malaysia.

The wild Sumatran tiger population, living primarily in national parks, is only about 400 to 500 animals.

When Chairman Mao Tze-tung started a massive tiger eradication program in the early 1960s, the South China tiger population stood at about 4,000. After his death in 1976, with the South China tiger population at around 400, the Chinese government instituted a "Save the Tiger Program!" There are perhaps 20 to 30 South China (Amoy) tigers in the wild, but they are so inbred that the effective population is much lower.

The most recent census by the Hornocker Wildlife Institute and Russian scientists collaborating in the Siberian Tiger Project estimates the current Siberian tiger population in Russia has increased from about 200 in 1992, to an estimated 415 to 476 adults and cubs in 1996. Despite the habitat fragmentation caused by logging, 95% of this Siberian tiger population constitutes a single sub-population. The potential for recovery looks good. http://www.5tigers.org/

The information links on each of the above tiger species have been graciously provided courtesy of The Tiger Information Center, sponsored by Save the Tiger Fund, a joint effort by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Exxon Corporation to support international, multi-faceted programs designed to ensure the tiger's long term survival in the wild.

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