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article imageTigers now clustered in 6% of available habitat

By Subir Ghosh     Sep 15, 2010 in Environment
Most of the world's last remaining tigers – long decimated by overhunting, logging, and trade – are now clustered in just 6 percent of their available habitat, wildlife researchers have found. They have identified 42 'source sites' across Asia.
These sites are now the last hope and greatest priority for the conservation and recovery of the world's largest cat.
The strategies to save the tiger must focus on protecting these remaining concentrations of tigers, the scientists have said. These 42 sites contain almost 70 percent of all remaining wild tigers and, so, have a disproportionate importance to the survival and recovery of the species.
Collectively they cover less than 100,000 sq km, which is less than 0.5 per cent of their historical range and just 6 per cent of even their current distribution. If Russia is excluded from the analysis, 74 percent of the world's remaining tigers live in less than 4.5 percent of current tiger range. Therefore, protecting source sites offers the most pragmatic and efficient opportunity to conserve most of the world's remaining wild tigers.
The study is published online by PLoS Biology.
"While the scale of the challenge is enormous, the complexity of effective implementation is not," said Joe Walston, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Programme and lead author of the study. "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."
The researchers also assessed the costs of protecting source sites, including increased law enforcement, biological and law enforcement monitoring, and where appropriate, community engagement, informant networks, and trade monitoring. Their analysis estimates the average cost of protecting and monitoring tigers effectively at all 42 source sites at $82 million per year or $930/ sq km per year, within the range of effective protected area costs in general (from $130 to >$5,000/sq kmyear for densely settled regions in Asia).
More than half of these funds ($47 million, almost US$500/sq km) have already been committed by range-state governments and, to a far lesser extent, international donors and NGOs. However, much of the total governmental financial commitment comes from and is spent in India. When India is excluded from the analysis, the average current commitment drops to US$365/sq km per year. This leaves an overall shortfall of US$35 million a year for all source sites.
"The tiger is facing its last stand as a species," said Dr John Robinson, Executive Vice President of Conservation and Science for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). "As dire as the situation is for tigers, WCS is confident that the world community will come together to save these iconic big cats from the brink for future generations. This study gives us a roadmap to make that happen."
Money matters are likely to figure at the Tiger Summit, to be hosted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Russia in November 2010—the Chinese Year of the Tiger and the International Year of Biodiversity. The Summit will culminate efforts by the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI). Leaders of 13 tiger range states, supported by international donors and conservationists attending the summit, are being asked to commit to substantive measures to prevent the unthinkable: extinction of the world's last wild tiger populations.
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