New Delhi: The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that a massive infrastructure boom in the days to come may thwart years of efforts made in protecting the big cats in Asia.
In its report, the WWF said that thousands of kilometres of railways and roads planned across Asia will scuttle progress made in the recent years to save the world’s last tigers.
It said that the infrastructure boom in coming years will see the construction of 11,000-km of new transport projects, which will carve up the big cat’s habitats and restrict them from travelling across the huge ranges they need.
The wild life conservationists claim the collective efforts taken in the past to stop poaching and looking after protected areas would not be enough to help tigers in future.
The WWF report stated that growing human populations and trade are driving a road-and rail-building splurge valued in the trillions.
Tiger numbers have bounced back modestly since an all-time low of 3,200 in 2010, to an estimated 3,890 now. That has been driven partly by a target to double tiger numbers by 2022, set by Vladimir Putin, the then-Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and other leaders of tiger range states.
“The potential impact of the linear infrastructure may be way beyond a setback - this could dismantle the progress we’ve made over 20-30 years,” said Dr Ashley Brooks, a co-author of the report, The Road Ahead. “The scale is astronomical.”
Brooks cited a series of huge national development projects, such as national highway seven in India, which will cut through a critical corridor between two tiger reserves. There are also plans for a transport link between Bangkok and a port slated for Dawei in Myanmar.
In Sumatra, a north-south highway will dissect the whole island, while Nepal is planning a national railway upgrade and work on its “postal highway”, which Brooks said posed a significant threat to a natural corridor for tigers between India and Nepal.
WWF will not try to block such infrastructure, some of which will be four- and eight -lane highways. Instead, it will try to ensure they are built in ways that tigers can still get through them, such as using animal underpasses, elevating roads or tunnelling.
Not only are the roads direct threats to the tigers and their prey, but they will have knock-on or “cascading” effects, WWF said. “Roads provide access to areas that previously weren’t there. Poachers are the first people behind the road builders,” said Brooks.
While acknowledging that it would be hard to persuade some governments to spend more on making transport infrastructure tiger-friendly, he warned that he consequences would be grim for tigers if they did not.