Photo credit: Todd Ryburn/Creative Commons
According to current estimates, only 3,200 tigers remain in the entire world. These few individuals are scattered across 13 countries in Asia, mostly sheltered in protected habitats and reserves. These reserves will have to increase, conservationists say, if tiger range countries will meet their goal of doubling the species' population by 2022.
If the size of the reserves can be increased—and corridors established between them—researchers believe Asia could support a population of more than 10,000 wild tigers, three times the current population.SLIDESHOW: Wild Tiger Found in Hotel Becomes First Translocated in Nepal
The key to protecting current populations—and helping them grow to more sustainable numbers—a recent study has shown, is to provide large protected landscapes with ample prey populations. Establishing these reserves will require a serious commitment from tiger range countries, but the report shows that such areas can be valuable under carbon storage and other environmental schemes.
Dr. Eric Dinerstein, Chief Scientist at WWF-US, explained:
In the midst of a crisis, it's tempting to circle the wagons and only protect a limited number of core protected areas, but we can and should do better...We absolutely need to stop the bleeding, the poaching of tigers and their prey in core breeding areas, but we need to go much further and secure larger tiger landscapes before it is too late.
In addition to the potential economic value, large tiger reserves represent a deep ecological value. "Tiger conservation is the face of biodiversity conservation and competent sustainable land-use management at the landscape level," commented John Seidensticker, a researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Research Institute, "by saving the tiger we save all the plants and animals that live under the tiger's umbrella."
Connecting reserves, too, is integral for their success. The study highlighted two reserves in India, Sariska and Panna, which lost their populations of tigers due to poaching in 2005 and 2009, respectively. The reserves were isolated from others in the country and because of this, tigers had to be translocated to repopulate the areas.
Several examples, from Nepal to Russia, China to India, were provided to illustrate the opposite: How tigers use protected corridors to repopulate distant reserves once native groups disappear.
This, unfortunately, adds another threat to tigers: The rapid expansion of infrastructure projects in the region that threaten these essential corridors.
Still, if these corridors can be maintained—as new ones are built to link existing reserves—tiger range countries could have enough protected space to sustain as many as 10,500 tigers, including about 3,400 breeding females, and that is certainly good news.