Long live the tiger
Vinay Madhav, TNN, Sep 19, 2010, 06.46am IST
BANGALORE: There are 42 source sites, including 18 in India, that hold the key to the future of tigers, which are on the brink of extinction. Around 22 leading wildlife biologists from across the globe, including Dr K Ullas Karanth from India, made this observation in a paper they published in the prestigious PLoS Biology Magazine.
At a time when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will be hosting the Tiger Summit to address the dwindling number of tigers across the globe, the paper has suggested pragmatic measures for the protection of this majestic animal.
It has been the Chinese Year of the Tiger, and it is this country which is the largest market for tiger parts. The summit will be held in November, where leaders of 13 tiger range states, supported by international donors, will participate.
Approximately 1.5 million sqkm of suitable habitat still remain in Asia, where tigers are distributed heterogenously, and except in the Russian Far East, are restricted to small pockets, mostly in protected areas.
Source sites are defined as areas which have more than 25 breeding females and having a landscape with the potential to contain more than 50 breeding females. These 42 source sites are home to almost 70% of all remaining wild tigers and though disproportionate, are important for the survival of the species. Collectively, they cover 100,000 sqkm, which is less than 0.5% of their historical range, and just 6% of their current distribution. If Russia is excluded from the analysis, 74% of the world's remaining tigers live in less than 4.5% of the current tiger range.
Source sites are not evenly distributed across the tigers' range, with the most number in India (18), Sumatra (eight) and the Russian Far East (six). Based on available data, no source site was identified in Cambodia, China, Korea, or Vietnam. Surveys in Bhutan and Myanmar have been too limited for their status to be assessed.
Actively protecting tigers at source sites is feasible and pragmatic, and has been successful in many reserves across India, between 1974 and 1986. The Malnad-Mysore tiger landscape currently maintains more than 220 adult tigers, one of the greatest concentrations in the world. This is mainly due to intensive protection of source sites such as Nagarahole National Park, where tiger numbers have increased by 400%, after protection began in the early 1970s.
Wild tiger numbers are at a historic low. There is no evidence of breeding populations of tigers in Cambodia, China, Vietnam, and DPR Korea. Current approaches to tiger conservation are not slowing the decline in tiger numbers, which has continued unabated over the past two decades.
The decline of the tiger continues despite much concern, and both their range and total number have collapsed: fewer than 3,500 animals now live in the wild, occupying less than 7% of their historical range. Of these, approximately 1,000 are likely to be breeding females.
Though tigers showed a remarkable recovery between 1970s and 1990s, during the era of Project Tiger, it also became clear that protection and management of many reserves remained inadequate as witnessed in the reserves of Sariska and Panna, where tigers are now extinct.
COST OF PROTECTION
Scientists feel that protecting source sites is financially attainable. The analysis estimates an average cost of protecting and monitoring tigers effectively at all 42 source sites at $82 million per year or $930 per sqkm per year. More than half of these funds are already being committed by range-state governments, and the shortfall is less than $35 million, the paper noted.