The wildlife conservation group WWF says wild tiger populations have dropped sharply across Asia and may soon be wiped out. The group is urging governments in the region to better enforce laws against poaching and trafficking in wildlife.
The WWF says Asia's wild tiger population numbered around 100,000 a century ago but, due to poaching and human activity, only an estimated 3,200 remain today, about half of them in India.
The WWF said Thursday that the biggest threat to tigers is what it calls a poaching epidemic. Tigers are killed so their parts can be sold as traditional Chinese medicine.
Intensive hunting of tiger prey, such as wild deer, also has depleted their food supply.
Michael Baltzer is in charge of the WWF's global tiger initiative. He says human encroachment, such as large commercial farms, has forced tigers into ever smaller territories. They now live in only seven percent of the land they historically covered.
"It's probably likely that if the trend continues, if this line continues to go down, we're probably going to see tigers to the point where they just cannot survive in the wild any more and cannot breed any further in the wild - probably by the next year of the tiger," he said.
The Chinese year of the tiger begins on February 14 and the next year of the tiger will be in 12 years.
To prevent a rapid decline of tiger populations, the WWF is urging Asian countries to commit resources to doubling wild tiger populations by 2022.
Tigers are found wild in 13 countries, including China, Russia and most of South and Southeast Asia.
Ministers from those countries will meet in Thailand, next week to discuss better protections for wild tigers.
Baltzer says Malaysia and Nepal have already agreed to work toward doubling their wild tiger populations.
The WWF hopes to get a similar commitment from other ministers at the meeting, including China.