Monday, July 31, 2006
Five years ago I went to northern India and stayed in tiger country. I never saw a tiger. The villagers in the area I stayed reported one night that a tiger was on the prowl. I ventured into a national park that was closed because of tiger poachers -- I was escorted by a ranger. He showed me where they live and the ungulates that are tiger food. Just to be in an area where tigers roam was exciting and a bit of an adrenaline rush. I hope to return and spend time with tigers some time in the future. Unfortunately, I may not make it in time. Tigers are disappearing at a tremendous rate, as the results of this study make clear.
The most comprehensive scientific study of tiger habitats ever done finds that the big cats reside in 40 percent less habitat than they were thought to a decade ago. The tigers now occupy only 7 percent of their historic range. The report and related materials can be downloaded at www.tigermaps.org
This landmark study, commissioned by the Save The Tiger Fund and produced by some of the world's leading tiger scientists at World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park and Save The Tiger Fund, calls for specific international actions to safeguard remaining populations. The study finds that conservation efforts such as protection from poaching, preservation of prey species, and preservation of tigers' natural habitat have resulted in some populations remaining stable and even increasing. But it concludes that long-term success is only achieved where there is a broad landscape-level conservation vision with buy-in from stakeholders.
"This report documents a low-water mark for tigers, and charts a way forward to reverse the tide," said John Robinson of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "We can save tigers forever. However, tiger conservation requires commitment from local partners, governments and international donors, along with effective, science-based conservation efforts to bring the species back to all parts of its biological range."
Synthesizing land use information, maps of human influence, and on-the-ground evidence of tigers, this study identifies 76 "tiger conservation landscapes" -- places and habitats that have the best chance of supporting viable tiger populations into the future. Large carnivore populations like tigers are highly vulnerable to extinction in small and isolated reserves. Half the 76 landscapes can still support 100 tigers or more, providing excellent opportunities for recovery of wild tiger populations. The largest tiger landscapes exist in the Russian Far East and India. Southeast Asia also holds promise to sustain healthy tiger populations although many areas have lost tigers over the last 10 years.
"As tiger range spans borders, so must tiger conservation," said Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist and vice president of conservation science at World Wildlife Fund. "Asia's economic growth should not come at the expense of tiger habitat and the natural capital it protects."
The group's key conclusion from the study is that to safeguard remaining tigers, increased protection of the 20 highest priority tiger conservation landscapes is required. The group also stands ready to support the 13 countries with tigers in a regional effort to save the species. The report's authors suggest that the heads of state of those countries convene a "tiger summit" to elevate tiger conservation on their countries' agendas.