Of all the tigers left in the world—and there aren’t many—70 percent of them are clustered into lands that make up just 6 percent of the total tiger habitat in the world. Save these spots, scientists say today, and you save the tigers.
In the journal PLoS Biology, a large group of researchers outline why their 6 percent solution could succeed where other conservation attempts have failed. Basically, they say, efforts to save the cat have been ambitious, but too broad. Job one has to be the protection of these 42 small “source sites” in Asia (seen on the map in the slideshow above), that are home to the core population of tigers.
“The long-term goal is to conserve an Asia-wide network of large landscapes where tigers can flourish,” said Nigel Leader-Williams from Cambridge University, one of the scientists on this study. “The immediate priority, however, must be to ensure that the few breeding populations still in existence can be protected and monitored. Without this, all other efforts are bound to fail.” [BBC News]
At present count there are just more than 3,000 tigers left in the world, down from about 5,000 a dozen years ago. The population may include only 1,000 breeding females.
Tiger parts are so prized in Eastern medicine that a dead one can sell for $1,500 to $3,500 before its eyes are sold as a cure for epilepsy and malaria, its penis is converted into a soup for virility, and its bones are ground into powder to treat ulcers, rheumatism and typhoid, according to Wildlife Conservation Society species program director Elizabeth Bennett. [Washington Post]
Tiger salvation, like everything else, comes down to dollars. While the big cats each are worth thousands in the eyes of poachers, it would take millions to protect them as a species. The PLoS study scientists estimate a total of $82 million per year to protect all 42 sites; now, just about $47 million per year is coming in.
Even more will be required, however, to make the jump from stabilizing tiger populations and staving off their extinction to actually restoring them as a viable, wild species.
Michael Baltzer, leader of the WWF Tiger Network Initiative and independent of the study, agreed, saying conservationists need to be careful not to create “wild zoos.” Some money needs to go toward key surrounding habitats, like movement corridors, before the land is swallowed up by palm oil plantations, illegal loggers or roads, he said. [AP]
DISCOVER: Earth Without People: Alan Weisman’s classic article that led to his book The World Without Us says that tigers would devour livestock and multiply if we pesky humans suddenly vanished.
DISCOVER: Elephants Stomp Ebay in the Animal-Auction Wars (PHOTOS)
80beats: Tigers and Humans Tangle in Sumatra; Both Sides Lose
80beats: It’s Hard Out Here for a Tiger, World Bank Says
Images: Wikimedia Commons; PLoS; Wikimedia Commons; flickr / dimitri_krendelev