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Urban­iza­tion may hold key to tiger sur­vival say researchers

pub­lished 20 Jan­u­ary 2019 | mod­i­fied 20 Jan­u­ary 2019

Con­ser­va­tion­ists look at five human socio-​economic sce­nar­ios to bet­ter under­stand the fate of endan­gered tigers

A new study led by researchers of the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS) pub­lished online on 5 Jan­u­ary in the jour­nal Bio­log­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion says the future of tigers in Asia is linked to the path of demo­graphic tran­si­tion — for humans. The study marks the first-​of-​its-​kind analy­sis that over­lays human pop­u­la­tion sce­nar­ios with the fate of these endan­gered big cats.

Bengal tigerBen­gal tiger (Pan­thera tigris ssp. tigris).
Image credit: WCS-​India, Telan­gana State For­est Depart­ment, Hyder­abad Tiger Con­ser­va­tion Society

Prior to the 20th cen­tury, some experts esti­mate there were more than 100,000 tigers liv­ing in the wild; today that num­ber is between 30004000. In con­trast to this, over the last 150 years, the human pop­u­la­tion of Asia has grown from 790 mil­lion to over 4 bil­lion, with dire con­se­quences for tigers and other wildlife.

But these trends are chang­ing. The demo­graphic tran­si­tion is the process by which human pop­u­la­tions peak and then go down. The researchers looked at dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios of eco­nomic, edu­ca­tion, migra­tion, and urban­iza­tion pol­icy. In 2010, 57 mil­lion peo­ple lived in areas defined as ‘tiger con­ser­va­tion land­scapes’ that con­tained all of the world’s remain­ing wild tigers. How­ever, by 2100, depend­ing on pop­u­la­tion trends, as few as 40 mil­lion peo­ple could be shar­ing space with tigers, or it could be as many as 106 million.

Dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tion sce­nar­ios depend on the course of the demo­graphic tran­si­tion. Over the long-​term, the sce­nar­ios asso­ci­ated with the low­est human pop­u­la­tions are also asso­ci­ated with the great­est lev­els of urban­iza­tion and edu­ca­tion. At the same time, urban con­sump­tion is the source of many of the threats to tigers. There­fore, the authors say con­ser­va­tion author­i­ties must engage with peo­ple in cities to save tigers, while con­tin­u­ing to sup­port site-​level pro­tec­tion efforts around tiger source sites.

Said lead author Eric Sander­son, Senior Con­ser­va­tion Ecol­o­gist with WCS: “Urban­iza­tion and the sub­se­quent human demo­graphic tran­si­tion is arguably the most impor­tant his­tor­i­cal trend shap­ing the future of con­ser­va­tion. How that tran­si­tion plays out is not pre-​determined. Rather it depends on the pol­icy deci­sions that gov­ern­ments, and the soci­eties they rep­re­sent, take with respect to fun­da­men­tal mat­ters such as urban gov­er­nance, edu­ca­tion, eco­nomic reform, and the move­ment of peo­ple and trade goods. These deci­sions mat­ter for us and tigers too.”

Said co-​author and WCS Senior Vice Pres­i­dent of Field Con­ser­va­tion Joe Wal­ston: “If we want a world with tigers, forests, and wild­ness to per­sist beyond the 21st cen­tury, con­ser­va­tion needs to join forces with groups work­ing to alle­vi­ate poverty, enhance edu­ca­tion for girls, reduce meat con­sump­tion, and build sus­tain­able cities.”

Said co-​author Pro­fes­sor Bryan Jones of Baruch Col­lege: “Demo­graphic futures, and the socio-​economic causes and con­se­quences thereof, are noto­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. As such, bio­phys­i­cal futures are sim­i­larly fraught with uncer­tainty. Under­stand­ing the con­se­quences of dif­fer­ent path­ways, dri­ven in large part by pol­icy deci­sions, is cru­cial to devel­op­ing a con­ser­va­tion strat­egy to pro­tect the planet’s most endan­gered habi­tats. Our abil­ity to under­stand the future will depend in part on how well we under­stand urban­iza­tion, in terms of both land use and demo­graphic behaviour.”

The paper builds on a 2018 WCS study that found that the enor­mous trends toward pop­u­la­tion sta­bi­liza­tion, poverty alle­vi­a­tion, and urban­iza­tion are rewrit­ing the future of bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion in the 21st cen­tury, offer­ing new hope for the world’s wildlife and wild places.

(Source: WCS news release, 16.01.2019)

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Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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