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Wild tiger pop­u­la­tions in key sites could triple in a gen­er­a­tion, given opti­mal conditions

pub­lished 17 Novem­ber 2018 | mod­i­fied 17 Novem­ber 2018

Wild tiger, Myanmar, © WWF-MyanmarA new study finds that wild tiger pop­u­la­tions in key tiger recov­ery sites across Asia have the poten­tial to triple within a human gen­er­a­tion given strong site man­age­ment, con­tribut­ing up to 15 per cent increase in the global tiger population.

Spread across var­i­ous habi­tats in 10 tiger-​range coun­tries, some of the study’s tiger recov­ery sites could be on track to ful­fil their high­est esti­mated tiger pop­u­la­tion capac­ity within the next 20 years, but only if effec­tive efforts in anti-​poaching and in sta­bil­is­ing prey base for the preda­tor are main­tained, among other conditions.

We’re at a crit­i­cal junc­ture for tiger con­ser­va­tion, where we can bring wild tiger pop­u­la­tions back from their dev­as­tat­ing decline but con­certed effort is needed to reach it. This study has revealed tremen­dous poten­tial among these sites — although some areas are still lag­ging behind, par­tic­u­larly in South East Asia, sev­eral oth­ers are already begin­ning to expe­ri­ence an increase in wild tigers. We know this can only hap­pen when there is strong polit­i­cal will, sus­tained invest­ments, respon­sive gov­er­nance and pub­lic sup­port — all crit­i­cal con­di­tions regard­less of which site we are look­ing at,” said Mar­garet Kin­naird, Leader of WWF’s Wildlife Practice.

In the study, pub­lished on 8 Novem­ber in the jour­nal PLOS ONE, the recov­ery poten­tial of 18 sites across 10 tiger-​range coun­tries, iden­ti­fied under WWF’s Tigers Alive Ini­tia­tive, was assessed involv­ing 49 authors. The paper sug­gests that tiger pop­u­la­tions in these poten­tial recov­ery sites — which cur­rently sup­port an esti­mated 165 (118277) tigers — could more than triple to around 585 (454739) under opti­mal cir­cum­stances, tak­ing into account spe­cially devel­oped site-​specific and eco­log­i­cally real­is­tic tar­gets and timelines.

The 18 recovery sites across the tigers rangeThe 18 recov­ery sites across the tigers range.
The loca­tion of the 18 recov­ery sites that have been delin­eated across 10 TRCs over­laid on the species range map. Also depicted are the esti­mates of cur­rent and poten­tial tiger pop­u­la­tion size for each site.
Har­i­har A, Chan­chani P, Borah J, Crouthers RJ, Dar­man Y, Gray TNE, et al. (2018) Recov­ery plan­ning towards dou­bling wild tiger Pan­thera tigris num­bers: Detail­ing 18 recov­ery sites from across the range. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0207114. https://​doi​.org/​10​.​1371​/​j​o​u​r​n​a​l​.​p​o​n​e​.​0207114

Lead author of the study and pop­u­la­tion ecol­o­gist at Pan­thera, Dr Abishek Har­i­har said, “Each tiger site is unique and requires inten­sive efforts based on spe­cific plans that are rel­e­vant at the site level. This study has clearly laid out dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of a tiger recov­ery sys­tem, with a spe­cial focus on recov­ery sites — areas with high poten­tial for long-​term recov­ery of wild tiger pop­u­la­tions. Our assess­ment serves as a tem­plate to guide plan­ning for pop­u­la­tion recov­ery in other sites glob­ally and helps to inform more effec­tive, inte­grated approaches to tiger conservation.”

Accord­ing to the study, increased and even­tu­ally, sta­ble prey pop­u­la­tions are a pre-​requisite, while com­pre­hen­sive sys­tems to reduce the risk of human-​wildlife con­flict are essen­tial for ensur­ing safe co-​existence among the increased wild tiger pop­u­la­tions and local com­mu­ni­ties, which are also pro­jected to grow in pop­u­la­tion size.

The pres­ence of wild tigers rep­re­sent thriv­ing bio­di­ver­sity and indi­cate healthy ecosys­tems — as apex preda­tors, tigers can only sur­vive with a sta­ble prey base. This study affirms the need for tiger-​range gov­ern­ments to take a holis­tic, long-​term view towards tiger recov­ery which must include plans for revival of prey ani­mals and other wildlife at the site-​level.

Dr Rajesh Gopal, Sec­re­tary Gen­eral, Global Tiger Forum (GTF)

Since the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, both the pop­u­la­tion and range of wild tigers have been esti­mated to have shrunk by a dev­as­tat­ing 95 per cent, due to ram­pant poach­ing and habi­tat destruc­tion. In 2010, the global tiger pop­u­la­tion reached an all-​time low of around 3,200, prompt­ing 13 tiger-​range gov­ern­ments to con­vene and com­mit to TX2 — one of the most ambi­tious goals ever com­mit­ted to for the con­ser­va­tion of a sin­gle species.

The authors of this study, con­cluded that although the goal to dou­ble tiger num­bers by 2022 may be ambi­tious given the lim­ited time frame, it is still pos­si­ble as long as sig­nif­i­cant and sus­tained con­ser­va­tion efforts are actioned immediately.

Dou­bling wild tiger num­bers is just the first step — it is the very least we need to put a safe dis­tance between wild tigers and the threat of extinc­tion. As we move towards the TX2 goal, we must recog­nise that global efforts put into tiger recov­ery is aimed at the long-​term sur­vival of tigers in the wild, way beyond 2022,” said Joseph Vat­takaven, coor­di­nat­ing author and tiger biol­o­gist from WWF.

(Source: WWF press release, 14.11.2018)

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