- Some 11,000 kilometers (~6,800 miles) of roads and railway projects are already planned through tiger landscapes, in addition to canals, oil and gas pipelines and power lines.
- Without wider ecological implications in mind, linear infrastructure projects can result in habitat fragments that are too small for the wide-ranging tiger populations, the report says.
- Roads and railways can also facilitate access to previously inaccessible tiger habitats, leading to increased human-tiger conflict, poaching and death from vehicular collisions.
In 2010, 13 tiger range countries pledged to double the number of wild tigers by 2022 – the next Chinese year of the tiger. But the path to achieving these goals appears to be marred by a boom in transport projects, according to a new WWF report.
Massive road, railway and waterway projects threaten to destroy the remaining tiger landscapes and habitats, undermining the progress made to protect the world’s wild tigers, the report warned.
“The global collaboration to double wild tigers has transformed tiger conservation and given the species a real chance of survival, but the scale of Asia’s infrastructure plans could destroy all the recent gains as well as hopes for the future of wild tigers,” Mike Baltzer, leader of WWF’s Tiger’s Alive Initiative, said in a statement. “Infrastructure is central to Asia’s development, but we need to ensure it is sustainable and does not come at the expense of tigers and tiger landscapes.”
Between 3,000 and 4,000 tigers are estimated to remain in the wild today. While some tiger populations in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Russia have recovered slightly, those in southeast Asia continue to decline. Now, tigers face an “unprecedented” threat from linear infrastructure, WWF says.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia would have to spend $8 trillion on linear infrastructure between 2012 and 2020 to meet the demands of its growing population. Some 11,000 kilometers (~6,800 miles) of roads and railway projects are already planned through tiger landscapes, in addition to canals, oil and gas pipelines and power lines.
But without wider ecological implications in mind, linear infrastructure projects can result in habitat fragments that are too small for the wide-ranging tiger populations, the report says. Roads and railways can also facilitate access to previously inaccessible tiger habitats, leading to increased human-tiger conflict, poaching and death from vehicular collisions.
For example, two- to four-lane highways, railways, transmission lines and oil and gas pipelines are proposed to cut through the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape (DTL) along the Thailand-Myanmar border, the report notes. The DTL, covering more than 30,000 square kilometers of forests, is home to about 250 wild tigers, the largest population of tigers in the Greater Mekong region.
The Terai Arc Landscape at the border of Nepal and India, home to one of the highest density of tigers, is also threatened by large-scale road and railway projects. Work on a 650 kilometer highway that will run along the border has already commenced, and an additional 5,000 kilometers of roads and railways are planned through the tiger landscape, according to the report.
Given the scale of linear infrastructure development planned through existing tiger habitats, traditional conservation initiatives, such as anti-poaching measures and monitoring of tiger populations, to protect the tiger will continue to be important, but will no longer be enough, WWF said. Tiger conservation policies must also consider the “growing threat of infrastructure developments”, the authors write.
“Countries must urgently integrate the conservation of tigers and tiger landscapes into their development planning,” said Baltzer. “The good news is that solutions exist and it is not too late. But if countries do not act now, the damage will be irreparable.”