Myanmar has announced that Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve will be nearly tripled in size, making the protected area the largest tiger reserve in the world. Spanning 17,477 square kilometers (6,748 square miles), the newly expanded park is approximately the size of Kuwait and larger than the US state of Connecticut.
After years of illegal hunting and a decline in prey the reserve may hold as few as 50 tigers, yet experts hope with protection the population could bounce back. Although tigers are the star, the park holds many other species including some 370 bird species.
Besides the tiger, which is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the area contains a number of threatened species, including the Indo-Chinese leopard (Near Threatened), clouded leopard (Vulnerable), Malayan sun bear (Vulnerable), Himalayan black bear (Vulnerable), sambar deer (Vulnerable), a wild bovine known as the gaur (Vulnerable), Asian elephants (Endangered), and the Rufous-necked hornbill (Vulnerable).
“I have dreamt of this day for many years,” said Alan Rabinowitz in a press release. Rabinowitz is the head of the cat-conservation group Panthera and leader of the first biological expedition into Hukaung Valley in 1997. During this expedition Rabinowitz discovered a new mammal: the leaf deer, the second smallest deer in the world.
“The strides we made in 2004 were groundbreaking,” he continued, “but protecting this entire valley to ensure tigers are able to live and roam freely is a game changer. This reserve is one of the most important stretches of tiger habitat in the world, and I am thrilled that the people and government of Myanmar understand the importance of preserving it.”
The valley is home to the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), one of six surviving subspecies of tiger (three have gone extinct—all in the Twentieth Century). Experts are unsure just how many of this subspecies survive: estimates range from a low of 350 to a high of 2,500. Tigers have been decimated by poaching for traditional Chinese medicines, habitat loss, prey declines, and human-predator conflict. Today 3,000 to 5,000 tigers survive in the wild. Suitable habitat for the world’s biggest cat has declined by 41 percent in the last decade alone.
(06/27/2010) The number of wild tigers has plummeted from 25,000-30,000 animals 50 years ago to around 3,200 today. A large part of the drop is from habitat loss and fragmentation. Tiger habitat has been reduced by 40 percent over the last decade, and tigers now occupy less than 7 percent of their historical range. Poaching has also contributed significantly to these dramatic population declines, particularly to supply parts for use in traditional medicine. In an interview with Laurel Neme, Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), notes that, although the Chinese government has made significant efforts to reduce demand for tiger products by eliminating tiger bone from the official pharmacopeias, raising consumer awareness and identifying cheaper and more effective herbal alternatives to tiger bone for use in TCM, tiger farms threaten to reopen demand for tiger products by breeding tigers excessively, stockpiling tiger carcasses, and stoking demand by making and selling wine made from tiger bone.
(06/06/2010) Over the past 100 years wild tiger numbers have declined 97% worldwide. In India, where there are 39 tiger reserves and 663 protected areas, there may be only 1,400 wild tigers left, according to a 2008 census, and possibly as few as 800, according to estimates by some experts. Illegal poaching remains the primary cause of the tiger’s decline, driven by black market demand for tiger skins, bones and organs. One of India’s leading conservationists, Belinda Wright has been on the forefront of the country’s wildlife issues for over three decades. While her organization, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), does not carry the global recognition of large international NGOs, her group’s commitment to the preservation of tigers, their habitat, and the Indian people who live with these apex predators, is one reason tigers still exist.
(05/05/2010) A debate rages in India over a proposal to ban tiger tourism in India. Proponents of the ban say tiger tourism is intrusive and disturbs tigers and wildlife in tiger reserves. Opponents say that among all the threats to the tiger, tourism is the least potent and raises awareness. Shubhobroto Ghosh of TRAFFIC India weighs in on the issue after seeing his first wild tiger in the flesh.