Protecting Wild Tiger Habitat
Most conservationists agree that strong protection of wildlife reserves has been the key to the endangered tiger’s survival so far. It is vital, however, that wildlife conservation and habitat protection are not isolated solutions, but an important part of a multifaceted tiger survival strategy.
Habitat loss is only one of several significant threats to the endangered tiger’s survival. As long as the demand and market for tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine thrive, lives of tigers will be threatened. Economic and political circumstances within many of the tiger countries also require serious attention and international support.
History of Tiger Conservation
The first ecological study of tigers in the wild, conducted in the mid-1960’s, shocked those already suspicious about the tiger’s endangered conditions with numbers that pushed the tiger to the brink of extinction.
In 1969, the General Assembly of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) proposed a resolution calling for international efforts to save the tiger. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) responded in 1972 with Operation Tiger, a global program to fund conservation efforts for the tiger in the Indian subcontinent, Indochina, and Indonesia.
During the 1970s, with the pressure and financial support of WWF’s Operation Tiger campaign, many countries, including Indonesia, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Thailand, established stronger wildlife protection laws (including laws banning the hunting of tigers) and created new protection areas.
India responded most rapidly with the formation of Tiger Task Force followed in 1973 by Project Tiger, which established India’s first tiger reserves and financial support from the Indian government for habitat conservation and tiger protection. The governments of all tiger-range countries have established protected areas or national reserves. Commitments to adequately fund and protect these wildlife reserves vary greatly from country to country.
Since the 1980s, the success of the wildlife reserves has been increasingly and drastically undermined by conflicts between “protected” tigers and both individual poachers and the needs of surrounding communities. Responding to the renewed need for intensive tiger conservation efforts beyond the national level, in 1993 members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cat Specialist Group and other world tiger experts endorsed a declaration that led to the formation of the Global Tiger Forum of Range States.
The forum works to bring together representatives from the 14 remaining tiger range-countries to develop regional strategies to save the tiger. In 1994, representatives from all the tiger-range countries attended the forum, except Lao PDR, China, and North Korea. Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Vietnam met and developed their regional conservation strategy in 1995.
Today, international conservation groups are working hard to save the tiger from extinction, but the prospect of losing the last of the world’s wild tigers within the next five years continues to loom. Combined with vital efforts to reduce the demand for tiger parts and strengthen protected-area laws, wildlife conservation and protection remains at the heart of the strategy to save the tiger in the wild.
Strategy to Protect Tiger Habitats
Identify and monitor high priority tiger populations on which immediate conservation efforts should be focused. To survive in the wild, tigers need large areas of habitat with sufficient water to drink, animals to eat, and vegetative cover for hunting. Optimal tiger habitat includes a core area of at least 1,000 square kilometers that is free from most human activities.
Smaller areas are more limited in prey and are less likely to ensure the future stability of the tiger population. Scientists can locate key tiger populations by surveying habitats that meet the long-term ecological requirements of tigers. Specialists must also improve research methods of gathering vital information on tiger behavior and ecology for the development of long-term solutions.
Manage key tiger habitat for the protection of tigers. On-the-ground protection is essential to protect tigers from poachers seeking tiger parts for the lucrative market in traditional Chinese medicine. Enforcement officers, park guards and staff need to be hired, funded, organized, trained, equipped and legally empowered to protect the tiger from illegal hunters, day and night.
Develop community-based sustainable development and conservation programs. In most situations, the participation and collective action of individual rural households, whose livelihoods depend on use of the forests where tigers live, is essential to sustain an effective tiger conservation strategy. Local institutions, government departments, non-governmental organizations, conservation groups and banks can work with communities to develop local economic enterprises that depend on alternative resources.
“Eco-development” (ecologically-sensitive development) must be combined with educational conservation programs that inform, empower and inspire local communities to participate in the protection of the tiger. It is also important to educate consumers around the world that conservation efforts at home help reduce the demand for natural resources abroad.
Captive Breeding of Tigers
Animal specialists at zoos all around the world are paying special attention to animals from endangered species. Working with conservation groups, tiger specialists are researching tiger nutrition, health, and reproduction and zoo facilities and management so that zoo tigers will breed future generations of healthy cubs.
Conservation Breeding Specialist Groups and zoos are cooperating internationally in captive-breeding programs such as GASP (Global Animal Survival Plan). Some captive-bred tigers have been released into the wild. Although these programs do not prevent habitat encroachment, captive breeding is important for maintaining a reservoir of genetic material on tigers.
Zoos provide insurance against such long-term threats as genetic deterioration that could affect the small populations of tigers left in fragmented reserves.
Participate in the solution. Your awareness and support is a vital part of the effort to save the wild tiger from extinction. Wildlife conservation groups and tiger specialists are working hard to preserve and protect tiger habitat, but their efforts will fail without adequate resources. It is very expensive to monitor reserves and enforce anti-poaching laws.
For example, it would cost approximately $15 million a year to adequately protect the tigers in India’s reserves. It is imperative that we protect the tiger: it will not survive on its own.