Photo via Jaymi Heimbuch
It might seem like an obvious connection: figure out the key areas where tigers breed best and conserve those areas, rather than large swaths of general landscapes. Yet, it still isn't being done. According to the authors of a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, only about one third of the roughly 3,200 tigers left in the wild are breeding females. This means protecting where they live -- only about 6% of the available habitat -- should be the highest priority. The new study pinpoints 42 key areas where all conservation efforts are best focused. According to Yahoo News, most of the key breeding areas are in India, with a handful in Indonesia, Russia's Far East, and elsewhere in Asia. By boosting law enforcement and surveillance to decrease poaching in these areas, the likelihood of saving wild tiger populations would be greatly improved. But it would cost around $82 million a year -- $42 million on conserving the source sites, and $35 million for more extensive population monitoring, law enforcement, and community organizing. Considering the tens of millions already poured into failed conservation efforts over the last decade (wild tiger populations have dropped by nearly 97% in the last 20 years), it doesn't seem like too high a price to ask from state governments and international conservation organizations.
According to the news article, these more concentrated efforts have been successful in the past, not just for tigers but also with the African rhinoceros. It also takes great efforts in protecting tigers' wider ranges so that they can freely move across and between their natural territories without threat of poaching or poisoning, but honed efforts would help.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society's Dr. Joe Walston, "While the scale of the challenge is enormous, the complexity of effective implementation is not. In the past, overly ambitious and complicated conservation efforts have failed to do the basics: prevent the hunting of tigers and their prey. With 70 percent of the world's wild tigers in just six percent of their current range, efforts need to focus on securing these sites as the number one priority for the species."
Keeping tigers safe even within conservation areas is difficult work, even if not so complex as Dr. Walston states. Last year we learned that the Panna tiger reserve in India no longer held any tigers at all. We also have heard it argued that conservation groups need to be accountable for the number of tigers that benefit from their conservation efforts, to ensure that the money and media coverage poured into saving the species is actually being put to good use. So while pinpointing where efforts should be focused is one key element of conservation, so too is follow-through.
To learn more about what Wildlife Conservation Society is doing for tigers and what you can do to help, visit their Tigers In Peril website.
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