A new study has found that wild tiger populations in key tiger recovery sites across Asia have the potential to triple in size 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 fulfill 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.
There are 18 tiger recovery sites from 10 tiger-range countries selected for the study, which currently support around 165 (118 – 277) wild tigers. These sites have the capacity to harbour up to 585 (454–739) individuals in the study’s best case scenario, representing an estimated tripling of their current combined population.
The study, conducted by 49 conservation experts from 10 tiger-range countries, developed site-specific and ecologically realistic targets and timelines for the recovery of tiger populations in 18 tiger recovery sites, identified under WWF’s global tiger conservation programme.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution for tiger recovery,” said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president for Wildlife Conservation, WWF-US.
“We know tigers will rebound in time if protected from poaching and if given enough habitat to roam, prey to eat and intact corridors to breed in, but no two sites are the same.
“This study provides a better understanding of what each site needs in order to harbour a healthy tiger population and where we can make the greatest impact.”
Lead author of the study and population ecologist at Panthera, Dr Abishek Harihar added, “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,” said Dr Rajesh Gopal, secretary general, Global Tiger Forum (GTF).
“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.”
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 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 put into action immediately.
The results of Nepal’s most recent tiger survey indicate it is on the cusp of becoming the first tiger range country to achieve TX2, giving hope for global tiger conservation.
Nepal announced in September that there are now an estimated 235 wild tigers in the country, nearly doubling the baseline of around 121 tigers in 2009.
The success in Nepal has been largely attributed to the country’s political commitment and the adoption of innovative tools and approaches towards tiger conservation.
Nepal was the first country to achieve global standards in managing tiger conservation areas, an accreditation scheme governed by the Conservation Assured Tiger Standards (CA|TS).
With four more years to go, the TX2 goal of doubling tiger numbers globally can only be achieved if all the tiger range countries step up and commit to a similar level of excellence.