Recently it was suggested that reintroduction of tigers in the Caspian region could support tiger conservation more effectively than the 'old school' conservation efforts. Building on results from 2009 which showed that the extinct Caspian tigers and Amur tigers have almost identical genetic sequences and therefore should be regarded as one subspecies (PloS One), the leading author, C.A. Driscoll and colleagues just recently proposed the reintroduction of tigers into the historic range of the extinct Caspian tiger in Science Magazine, August 2011. Furthermore they argued that such an alternative tiger conservation approach is needed because “traditional conservation approaches are proving insufficient.” This led to a response from renown tiger conservationists Alan Rabinowitz, Luke Hunter and Joseph Smith from Panthera in a letter to the editor in Science Magazine, September 2011. Their response is not very positive regarding the option of reintroduction of tigers in the Caspian region compared to traditional conservation approaches.
Panthera tiger expert's response:
In their letter, “Restoring Tigers to the Caspian region” (12 August, p. 822), C. A. Driscoll et al. propose the reintroduction of tigers into the historic range of the extinct Caspian tiger. Driscoll et al. assert that new approaches such as this one are needed because “traditional conservation approaches are proving insufficient.” We disagree.
Tiger biologists and conservationists have shown how to save tigers. So-called traditional approaches—including law enforcement, scientific assessments, monitoring of tiger and prey populations, and community outreach—are demonstrably effective in reversing tiger declines when properly implemented by conservation nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies (1–6).
New approaches should always be considered in our efforts to save the tiger, but the focus must be on addressing the most critical threats to those remaining tigers that survive in little more than four dozen source populations throughout their range (7). The immediate solution lies in convincing NGOs, conservationists, donor agencies, and government authorities to properly implement the proven best practices of tiger conservation: the traditional approaches. If we are considering reconstructive surgery for the tiger, then let’s stop the bleeding first.
(see also Panthera newsletter October 2011)
Although I support a good scientific discussion, I am afraid that any controversy about the right conservation approach to save tigers from extinction will confuse a lot of people, citizens as well as scientists and policy makers. This could harm the cause, which is the same for all concerned with these magnificent beasts. Is there any reason why this new approach of reintroducing the tigers in the Caspian cannot exist next to the traditional approach described by Panthera's experts? Personally, I do see the need for traditional nature conservation before successful reintroduction of the tiger can be accomplished. For instance, some of the driving forces why the Caspian tiger went extinct in the first place, such as habitat destruction and lack of prey, have not been removed yet.
So, let us hope that this controversy will not lead to a status quo in tiger conservation decision making. Dear tiger experts and conservationists, you have made your point. Now, let's go on saving the tiger, together!
(Sources: Science Magazine, August and September 2011; Panthera newsletter October 2011; see also Moos' blog on Genetic source for re-introduction of wild tigers in Kazakhstan too small?)