THE LOSS OF HABITAT FOR TIGERS
In order to live in the wild, tigers need water to drink, animals to hunt, and vegetation in which to hide. As the mountains, jungles, forests, and long grasses that have long been home to tigers disappear, so, too, do tigers.
Agricultural expansion, timber cutting, new roads, human settlement, industrial expansion and hydroelectric dams push tigers into smaller and smaller areas of land. These forest fragments are surrounded by rapidly growing and relatively poor human populations, including increasing numbers of illegal hunters. Without wilderness, the wild tiger will not survive.
Asia’s explosive population growth demands that more and more land be converted to agriculture. Indonesia, for example, has the same population as the United States, but only ten percent of the land area. Almost all of Indonesia’s lowland forest has been cleared for rice cultivation.
In India, where about 60 per cent of the world’s wild tigers still roam, the human population has grown by 50 percent in the past 20 years. Over the past 40 years, China’s population, the largest in the world, has more than doubled; and 99 per cent of China’s original forest habitat has been destroyed.
As tigers compete with humans and industry for land, they find less and less to eat. Local people hunt the same prey as tigers do, pressing tigers to resort to domestic animals and, on rarer occasions, even humans. (Tigers are one of only two animals–the other is the polar bear–that are known to stalk humans.)
Threatened villagers often poison, shoot, or snare the encroaching tigers.In addition to food, local communities also need to use the surrounding patches of forest for livestock grazing and wood for fuel.
Tiger – Human Conflict
To protect tigers from poachers and the rapidly increasing loss of land, wildlife conservationists have worked with governments to establish wildlife reserves. Reserves are protected areas ranging in size from China’s Xioaling at 21 km2 to Indonesia’s Kerinci Seblat at 14,846 km2.
Most reserves, however, are isolated islands of forest in which the tiger has little chance to survive due to the difficulty of meeting mates, the threat of disease, and genetic drift and in-breeding. Furthermore, these “protected areas” are extremely difficult to protect.
Forestry and wildlife departments are too understaffed and under-budgeted to save the tiger from the intensity of poachers.
Lacking organization, compensation for high-risk work, training, camps inside the protected areas, night patrols, recognition, motivation, and resources such as firearms, vehicles and communication equipment, the guards’ enforcement of anti-hunting laws is limited.
On one hand, communities, particularly rural ones, depend on natural resources for their livelihood and development. On the other hand, viable tiger populations may not survive in the wild beyond the year 2000. The dilemma between wilderness conservation and community development is real and complex.
Some efforts to protect tiger habitat have focused on programs aimed at reducing conflicts between tiger protected-area managers and people living in and around the reserves, although so far, few programs, if any, have been successful.
Political and economic conditions limit their effectiveness, especially given the onslaught of poachers who are killing tigers for the use of their body parts in traditional Chinese medicine.
Habitat protection, when combined with the promotion of alternatives to traditional Chinese remedies and stricter law enforcement, is a vital part of the strategy to save the tiger.