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Tigers can recover given protection, adequate food supplies

Tigers can recover given protection, adequate food supplies

Tigers can recover given protection, adequate food supplies
December 13, 2006

A new study says that if tigers are protected and have sufficient access to abundant prey, their populations can quickly stabilize. The findings have implications for conservation of the world’s largest cat species which is fast-disappearing due to habitat loss and poaching for the animal parts trade.

Conducted over a nine-year period in India’s Nagarahole National Park, the joint Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study found that 23 percent of the park’s tigers migrate or are killed each year yet the park’s population remains relative stable due to their high reproductive rate of 3-4 cubs per litter born every 2-3 years. The study employed remote camera traps to identify and count individual tigers in the park.

“This study shows that even well-protected wild tiger populations have naturally high rates of annual losses, and yet do fine because of their high reproductive rates,” said WCS researcher Dr. Ullas Karanth, lead author of the study, which is published in the journal Ecology. “The conservation implications of this study show that effectively protecting reserves to maintain high prey densities is a key pillar in an overall strategy for the conservation of tigers.”

Camera trap shot of a tiger in India’s Nagarahole National Park. Photo by U. Karanth/Wildlife Conservation Society.

The researchers used remote cameras to identify individual tigers and then accurately estimate population trends in the park. Over 5725 trap-nights of effort the team identified 74 individual tigers using the “noninvasive sampling approach.” K. Ullas Karanth, James D. Nichols, N. Samba Kumar, and James E. Hines authored the paper, titled “Assessing Tiger Population Dynamics Using Photographic Capture—Recapture Sampling.”

While the findings in India are positive, another WCS study, published in a recent issue of the journal Animal Conservation, found that the tiger population of a protected area along the Laos-Vietnam border is significantly diminished due to commercial poaching and prey depletion, problems that occur over much of the tiger’s range.

According to a study published this summer by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, tigers now occupy only 7 percent of their historic range. Further, poaching for a thriving tiger parts market in Western China is putting the species at risk, according to an investigation conducted this summer by the Environmental Investigation Agency.

“The good news is that given the chance, tigers can replenish their numbers; the bad news is that they are not being given that chance in many parts of their range,” said WCS’s noted big-cat researcher Dr. Alan Rabinowitz.

In July, WCS launched a new tiger conservation initiative. Known as “Tigers Forever”, the program blends a business model with hard science and has already attracted $10 million from venture capitalists.

Tigers can recover given protection, adequate food supplies.

This article is based on a news release from WCS.

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