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Asian infra­struc­ture boom could be end of the road for tigers

pub­lished 25 Novem­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 25 Novem­ber 2016

WWF report the road ahead for tigersWith mas­sive infra­struc­ture plans threat­en­ing all tiger land­scapes and risk­ing recent gains in tiger con­ser­va­tion, Asian gov­ern­ments must adopt a sus­tain­able approach to infra­struc­ture plan­ning and con­struc­tion or drive tigers toward extinc­tion, accord­ing to a new analy­sis by WWF.

Released at the halfway point of an ambi­tious global effort to dou­ble the num­ber of wild tigers between 2010 and 2022, The Road Ahead: Pro­tect­ing Tigers from Asia’s Infra­struc­ture Devel­op­ment Boom high­lights the unprece­dented threat posed by a vast net­work of planned infra­struc­ture across the con­ti­nent. Around 11,000 kilo­me­tres of roads and rail­ways are on the draw­ing board, along with new canals, oil and gas pipelines, and power lines. Part of a pro­jected US$8 tril­lion in pro­jected infra­struc­ture spend­ing across Asia from 2012 through 2020, this infra­struc­ture would cut through every exist­ing tiger habi­tat, increas­ing habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion, poach­ing and con­flict with com­mu­ni­ties.

Coun­tries must urgently inte­grate the con­ser­va­tion of tigers and tiger land­scapes into their devel­op­ment planning
Mike Baltzer, leader of WWF’s Tiger’s Alive Ini­tia­tive »
“The global col­lab­o­ra­tion to dou­ble wild tigers has trans­formed tiger con­ser­va­tion and given the species a real chance of sur­vival, but the scale of Asia’s infra­struc­ture plans could destroy all the recent gains as well as hopes for the future of wild tigers,” said Mike Baltzer. “Infra­struc­ture is cen­tral to Asia’s devel­op­ment, but we need to ensure it is sus­tain­able and does not come at the expense of tigers and tiger land­scapes.”

The release of the analy­sis comes on the anniver­sary of the 2010 ‘Tiger Sum­mit’ in St Peters­burg, Rus­sia, where global lead­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all 13 tiger range gov­ern­ments com­mit­ted to the Tx2 goal to dou­ble wild tigers by 2022. The new analy­sis marks the mid­way point in this global effort, warn­ing that new chal­lenges lie ahead for tigers and Asia’s rich nat­ural her­itage — a vital life­line for mil­lions of peo­ple across the con­ti­nent. Gov­ern­ments need to act now or face all of their work unrav­el­ling as unsus­tain­able con­struc­tion breaks down the nat­ural sys­tems that tigers represent.

WWF report the road ahead infrastructure vs tigerpopulationMap of major exist­ing roads in Asia and tiger land­scapes.
Credit and © WWF

At the time of the sum­mit, there were as few as 3,200 tigers in the wild — down from 100,000 just a cen­tury before. But over the past six years, tigers have shown signs of recov­ery in a num­ber of crit­i­cal land­scapes and coun­tries thanks to bet­ter man­age­ment of pro­tected areas, regional endorse­ment of the Zero Poach­ing approach, greatly improved mon­i­tor­ing capac­ity and enhanced efforts to tackle tiger traf­fick­ing.

There are now an esti­mated 3,890 tigers in the wild, with num­bers inch­ing up in India, Rus­sia, Nepal and Bhutan. But the sit­u­a­tion remains pre­car­i­ous. India has lost 76 tigers to poach­ers already this year, while China, Myan­mar, Thai­land and Malaysia, with less than 500 tigers between them, could lose their tigers in the next decade, espe­cially if poorly-​designed infra­struc­ture plans are given the green light.

Pro­duced for WWF by Dal­berg Global Devel­op­ment Advi­sors, the analy­sis calls on Asian gov­ern­ments to pur­sue a sus­tain­able path that pro­motes devel­op­ment, while also pro­tect­ing tigers and their habi­tats, which ben­e­fit mil­lions of peo­ple across the region.

Accord­ing to the analy­sis, pro­tect­ing tiger land­scapes from harm­ful infra­struc­ture will pre­serve their eco­nomic and envi­ron­men­tal value, ben­e­fit­ing com­mu­ni­ties across the con­ti­nent, includ­ing many indige­nous groups.

“Coun­tries must urgently inte­grate the con­ser­va­tion of tigers and tiger land­scapes into their devel­op­ment plan­ning,” said Baltzer. “The good news is that solu­tions exist and it is not too late. But if coun­tries do not act now, the dam­age will be irreparable.”

What gov­ern­ments should do
WWF is call­ing for tiger range states to incor­po­rate the pro­tec­tion of tigers and tiger land­scapes into the design stage of all infra­struc­ture plan­ning. They must iden­tify crit­i­cal tiger habi­tats and des­ig­nate them off lim­its to infra­struc­ture in future, while pre­serv­ing cor­ri­dors that are essen­tial to tiger move­ment.

Gov­ern­ments should also strengthen and enforce envi­ron­men­tal safe­guards as well as inte­grate habi­tat reha­bil­i­ta­tion, zero poach­ing guide­lines and wildlife mon­i­tor­ing into infra­struc­ture plan­ning and construction.

Tigers are part of the cul­tural fab­ric of Asia and of our shared global her­itage and rep­re­sent vast areas of nat­ural habi­tat that are crit­i­cal to the well-​being of mil­lions of peo­ple in Asia,” said Baltzer. “Gov­ern­ments should now use tigers and the health of their land­scapes as a key indi­ca­tor of the qual­ity of their eco­nomic and devel­op­ment plans. If they do, their peo­ple and their tigers will benefit.”

(Source: WWF Global news release, 22.11.2016)

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