Animal preservation NGO, WWF, marked World Tiger Day on July 29, saying efforts to double the number of wild tigers in the world had helped the species recover in five countries.
In 2010, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and thirteen countries in which tigers live (tiger range countries) signed an agreement called TX2, “a global commitment to double the world's wild tigers by 2022.”
WWF’s “Doubling Tigers: Annual Report 2019” notes that at the beginning of the 20th century tigers were “abundant” and could be found “as far west as Turkey, to the tip of the Russian Far East, and even as far south as Bali.”
“Wherever they roamed,” the report says, “the planet’s largest cat incited such awe and wonder they would become woven into the fabric of Asia’s cultural history - in literature, legends and religion.”
Yet nowadays tigers are scarce, existing in an area that amounts to “just 5 percent of their former range.” Wild tigers, an endangered species, have declined from numbers as high as 100,000 a century ago, to “an all-time low of as few as 3,200 in 2010.”
Marking World Tiger Day on July 29, WWF is cautiously optimistic about tigers making a comeback, ten years after the TX2 agreement was signed.
“Wild tiger numbers are increasing in five countries - Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Russia - but a snaring crisis in Southeast Asia is decimating the population,” a statement from WWF declares.
“From a historic population low in 2010, tigers are finally making a remarkable comeback in much of South Asia, Russia and China - and that’s great news for the other threatened species they share their home with, and also the millions of people dependent on these ecosystems,” says Stuart Chapman, Leader of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative.
While there is progress in five countries, tigers are not in the clear yet. They are threatened by “poaching for the illegal wildlife trade, habitat destruction and fragmentation across their range.”
WWF analysis suggests that there are 12.3 million snares “threatening wildlife in the protected areas of Cambodia, [Laos], and Vietnam.” The snare crisis has caused a decline as steep as fifty percent in tiger numbers from 2009 to 2018 in Belum-Temengor in Malaysia.
“Snares are the principal threat to tigers in Southeast Asia, and a major contributor to the fact they are now presumed extinct in Cambodia, [Laos] and Vietnam. Without strong action from governments, a snaring driven extinction wave could break across the region,” says Chapman.
According to the “Doubling Tigers: Annual Report 2019”, WWF is using three main strategies “to recover tiger populations”: Protect and Connect; Stop the Trade; and People Centered Tiger Conservation.
The WWF website calls the tiger a “conservation dependent species” as it is no longer able to thrive on its own and needs interventions to increase their number in the wild.
While governments in Southeast Asia need to do more and take action to “prevent the illegal and high-risk trade and sale of wildlife that can spread zoonotic diseases” – of which Covid-19 is one – WWF congratulated five other tiger range countries that have shown remarkable success in bringing back tiger populations.
The five tiger range countries with a positive outlook are India, which has doubled the number of wild tigers from 2006 to 2018; Nepal, where tigers in the wild have nearly doubled since 2009; Bhutan, whose Royal Manas National Park has helped double the number of tigers between 2010 and 2018; and China and the Russian Far East where tiger populations are on the rise and spreading out into new areas.
“These countries are leading the way in tiger recovery. The results speak for themselves. Sustaining and building on this remarkable success is the key to the future of living with tigers in a human dominated landscape,” says Chapman.
The statement from WWF marking World Tiger Day also quotes the national park manager of Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan, where tiger populations are increasing.
Ugyen Tshering says: “If we want to conserve a tiger then we need to conserve a large area of healthy forest. Healthy forest means that we have clean air and clean water. When we have a healthy forest, then we are also protected from landslides and erosion.”
“This is important because Bhutan is located in a fragile ecosystem where landslides and erosion are very common. Having healthy forests means we can prevent natural disasters.”
Thumbnail photo: A male Bengal tiger drinks water in Bandhavgarh National Park, India (c) Nitish Madan / WWF International
Headline photo: Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) with thick coat in the snow, Russia (c) Shutterstock / Ondrej Prosicky / WWF