Saving tigers – a new approach

Conservationists must protect tiger populations in a few concentrated breeding grounds.

Jakarta: Conservationists must protect
tiger populations in a few concentrated breeding grounds in
Asia instead of trying to safeguard vast, surrounding
landscapes, if they want to save the big cats from extinction,
scientists have said.

Only about 3,500 tigers are left in the wild
worldwide, less than one third of them breeding females,
according to one of the authors of a new study, John Robinson
of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Much has been done to try to save the world`s largest
cat - threatened by over-hunting, habitat loss and the
wildlife trade - but their numbers have continued to spiral
downward for nearly two decades.

That`s in part because conservation efforts are
increasingly diverse and often aimed at improving habitats
outside protected areas, according to the study, published in
yesterday`s issue of the peer-reviewed PLoS Biology journal.

Instead, efforts should be concentrated on the areas
where tigers live - most are clustered in just 6 percent of
their available habitat - and especially where they breed.

"The immediate priority must be to ensure that the
last remaining breeding populations are protected and
continually monitored," it says, adding if that doesn`t
happen, "all other efforts are bound to fail".

The WWF and other conservation groups say the world`s
tiger population has fallen from around 5,000 in 1998 to as
few as 3,200 today, despite tens of millions of dollars
invested in conservation efforts.

The cats have been lost largely to poachers, who cash
in on a huge market for tiger skins and a belief, prevalent in
east Asia, that tiger parts enhance health and virility.

The new study -- to which researchers from the
conservationist group Panthera, the World Bank, the University
of Cambridge and others also contributed -- identifies 42 key
areas that have concentrations of tigers with the potential to
grow and populate larger landscapes.

Eighteen are in India -- the country with the most
tigers -- eight in Indonesia, six in Russia`s Far East and the
others scattered elsewhere in Asia.

The price tag for the plan -- which would require
greater levels of law enforcement and surveillance -- would be
around USD 82 million a year, the study says.

The bulk of that is already being provided by state
governments and international support.

Similar efforts have been successful in the past
especially in India.

The Malenad-Mysore landscape in southern India has 220
adult tigers, one of the largest populations in the world,
thanks largely to intensive protection of its "source site,"
the Nagarahole National Park, in the 1970s.