How to Save the Wild Tiger
Tigers, like most big cats of the world, are in retreat. In the past, tigers were found all throughout Asia, from the Caspian Sea to Siberia and Indonesia. Now they occupy only six percent of their former range. In the last decade alone, tiger-occupied area has decreased by 41 percent. Despite decades of conservation initiatives, the number of tigers in the wild is at an all-time low. According to a new study from an international team of researchers, efforts should be concentrated on a few key sites in order to save the species from extinction.
The report was produced by a team including the University of Cambridge, Wildlife Conservation Society, and others, and is published in the journal PLoS Biology. Co-author, John Robinson, said, "The tiger is facing its last stand as a species...we are confident that the world community will come together to bring these iconic big cats back from the brink of extinction."
The report encourages conservationists to focus on 42 "source sites" as the top priority for the tiger's recovery. The price tag of doing so would be an estimated $35 million more than what is currently being spent on tiger conservation per year.
Unfortunately, the situation for the tiger is dire. Their global population is less than 3,500, of which a mere 1,000 are breeding females. Certain tiger populations have completely disappeared such as those in Cambodia, China, Vietnam, and North Korea. The remaining populations are pressured by habitat loss, killing or capture for human use, and from overhunting of their own prey. A huge factor in the recent decline of tigers is the demand for tiger body parts to be used as medicine.
The 42 source sites are defined as sites that have breeding populations and have the best chance to seed the tiger's recovery over a larger area in the future. It is akin to establishing no-fishing zones in the oceans in order to increase overall fish numbers. These sites would be safe havens for a predicted 70 percent of the global tiger population. However, they must be coupled with effective law enforcement and scientific monitoring. The result may be a rapid increase in tigers over a short span of time.
India has been singled out as the most important country for tiger conservation, with 18 source sites. Sumatra (largest island of Indonesia) also has eight, and the Russian Far East has six. The cost of this new conservation attempt would be borne mostly by the host countries but with contributions from international donors and NGOs. This fall, Russia will be hosting an international "Tiger Summit" with the hope of jump-starting this new coordinated effort.
A resurgence of the tiger population would be heartening to see. A poll conducted by the channel, Animal Planet, labeled the Tiger as the world's favorite animal, even beating out the dog. If this is the case, then people will recognize their importance and the need to ensure their survival.
Link to published article in PLoS Biology: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1000485