Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


An emerg­ing con­tro­versy in tiger con­ser­va­tion approaches?

pub­lished 25 Decem­ber 2011 | mod­i­fied 18 Decem­ber 2016

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.

amur tiger hamburg

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 (16).

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?)

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