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Asia

Saving tigers from extinction

The scientific journal of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation Letters, shows that with proper and immediate measures, the present population of over 3,000 tigers in the wild can even be tripled by 2025.

According to the WWF, as few as 3200 tigers are left in the world today

According to the WWF, as few as 3200 tigers are left in the world today

Linking tiger reserves and forest corridors to allow enough space for tigers to disperse and move freely is seen as the "only way to maintain a viable population of wild tigers," and to achieve the target of doubling it. Dr. Eric Dinerstein, the World Wildlife Fund’s chief scientist says tigers maintain exclusive territory and do not move easily between jungles, "if there is a barrier of more than four kilometers of hostile terrain – a village, a city or a town."

A natural part of tiger biology is to disperse, says Dr. Dinerstein. "Typically when a tiger has cubs, her female offspring will inherit parts of their mother’s home range. But the males have to disperse out of the territory in which they were born, otherwise they will be killed by the resident males."

Female offspring of a tiger inherit parts of their mother’s home range

Female offspring of a tiger inherit parts of their mother’s home range

He explains that if the reserves remain isolated then even doubling the population would be a struggle. "What we want to avoid is a situation of the 384 existing reserves becoming isolated like little wild zoos, where tigers can’t move between the reserves. If that happens they become more inbred, more genetically impoverished and the populations are at much greater risk."

Threats to tigers

Continual habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and poaching for illegal trade are the major threats facing the world’s largest cats.

"The first critical step to save tigers, everybody agrees, is to stop the bleeding not only of tigers but of their prey species as well. If the tiger prey species are poached, tigers will disappear soon there after," Dinerstein points out.

But he adds, "If that’s all we do then we are not going to achieve our goal of doubling the tiger population."

It is estimated by the Asian Development Bank that 7.5 trillion dollars will be invested over the next decade in infrastructure projects, such as roads, dams, irrigation projects, that will fragment and sever tiger corridors and reserves if these projects are not designed in a better way.

Tigers confiscated from an Indonesian businessman sit inside a cage at an animal rescue center

Tigers confiscated from an Indonesian businessman sit inside a cage at an animal rescue center

Rapid increase in human population has meant that tigers have been pushed out of their habitat to make room for more infrastructure develoment. According to the WWF, wild tiger numbers have fallen by over 95 percent in the past 100 years, with as few as 3,200 left today surviving in 40 percent less area than they occupied a decade ago.

Among the six remaining tiger subspecies, the Indochinese and the Sumatran tigers are more threatened because of conversion of their habitats.

A regional scheme to save tigers

Last month, a regional scheme, the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network, was launched to curb poaching and endangered wildlife trafficking. Samir Sinha, program head of India’s anti-smuggling body, Traffic, says tackling wildlife crime needs an organized response.

The first critical step to save tigers is to stop the bleeding not only of tigers but of their prey base

The first critical step to save tigers is to stop the bleeding not only of tigers but of their prey base

"This is the collaborative effort of all the eight South Asian countries, which have come together to work on strengthening wildlife law enforcement in the region. Because the South Asian region is a hotspot for bio-diversity, which also makes it a special target for wildlife criminals."

Sinha adds that about 45 percent of the world’s tigers live in India. There, poachers get seven years imprisonment along with a hefty fine. But he says efforts need to be heightened to protect the country’s national animal. Local communitites living near the tiger range areas have an important role, Sinha points out.

"It is they who have to take a sense of ownership. It is only with their support that tigers will continue to survive in the wild for generations to come."

Poaching and illegal wildlife trade of tiger bones and body parts, which are highly valued in the Chinese medicine market, have led to significant reductions in South Asia's tiger populations. Without immediate action, including a crucial need to connect reserves, tigers could become extinct within the next two decades.

Author: Sherpem Sherpa
Editor: Sarah Berning

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