Conservation news

Five promising stories for Global Tiger Day

  • Since the last Global Tiger Day in 2016, researchers have discovered tiger populations in unexpected areas, such as forested corridors along riverbanks and in areas that recently served as theaters of war.
  • Several countries have worked to protect the tigers that live within their borders, including the creation of a massive national park and taking steps to end tiger farming.
  • Camera trap surveys continue to prove invaluable to wildlife researchers in tracking down tigers and other species that can range over huge areas.

Reporting on the plight of wild tigers (Panthera tigris) generally doesn’t lead us down very many pleasant paths. Poaching, habitat loss and the decimation of their natural prey has led to a 95 percent reduction in their numbers worldwide since 1900, and only about 3,900 tigers still live in the wild, according to WWF. But in the past year, Mongabay’s editors, writers and correspondents have managed to find a few stories demonstrating that there’s still some hope for the iconic cat.

Here are five upbeat articles to celebrate Global Tiger Day.

1. China contemplates, then approves, a massive national park that’s home to tigers and leopards.

Most Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as Siberian tigers, live in Russia. But more than 30 live at least part time in China, primarily in Jilin province. The provincial government began a proposal in mid-2016 to connect three protected areas and form a national park with an area of 14,600 square kilometers (5,640 square miles). That’s more than 50 percent larger than Yellowstone National Park in the United States. The park would also protect 42 Amur leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) that inhabit the region.

Experts say that such an expanse is necessary to support a growing tiger population. They also hope the park will help protect the tiger’s prey, such as roe deer. Deer and other ungulates compete with cattle for grass and are sometimes killed by herders. As more humans encroach on tiger habitat, the incidence of cattle killed by the big cats has risen.

The Huffington Post reported that the Chinese Federal Government approved the park in May 2017.

China hosts a growing population of Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica). Photo by S. Taheri, edited by Fir0002 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

2. Laos pledges to shutter its commercial tiger farms.

In September 2016, the Southeast Asian country of Laos, also known as Lao People’s Democratic Republic or Lao PDR, committed to shutting down tiger farms within its borders . Around 200 farms are thought to exist throughout Asia to provide tiger skins and body parts to markets in the region, and they hold perhaps twice as many tigers (or more) as currently live in the wild, according to the London-based Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA). But conservationists contend that these farms keep demand for tiger-related products alive and maintain the incentive to poach wild tigers.

The announcement by Laos’ Minister of Natural Resources and Environment came following a call from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for the closure of tiger farms in several countries throughout the region. The move garnered tepid praise from conservationists, who added that the country still needed to back up its commitment with action. They are also waiting to see if Laos’ decision will influence its neighbors.

“All eyes now are on China, Thailand, Vietnam and other countries with tiger farms,” said Debbie Banks, head of EIA’s Tiger Campaign. “Will they follow suit and finally commit to ending tiger farming?”

Government officials in Laos have said they will end tiger farming in the country. Photo by Hans, from Pixabay. Public Domain.

3. Scientists find evidence that tigers and other animals are using forest corridors in Sumatra.

Amid pulpwood plantations on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, protected bands of forest along riverbanks are helping populations of tigers, as well as tapirs, bears, pangolins, and elephants hang on. In a study published in January, camera trap photographs revealed the “significant presence” of these animals. Additionally, such riparian forests help maintain the health and water quality of rivers by locking down sediment and filtering out pollutants.

The results prove that these strips of habitat can help wildlife species survive. Importantly, however, they must connect to larger banks of forest, such as Tesso Nilo National Park in Riau province, which is near the study site. And just as in gazetted parks, the animals rely on enforcement of the laws in place to protect them.

A Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). A recent study found that tigers in Riau province are using corridors that connect large swaths of forest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

4. Scientists find a wildlife treasure trove in Myanmar.

Until recently, parts of Myanmar haven’t been accessible to scientists for security or political reasons. But a study that included the use of camera traps published in the journal Oryx revealed tigers and 30 other species of animals living in Karen state, more than half of which are threatened.

“It is incredibly rare to find such rich and diverse wildlife anywhere in the world today but certainly in Southeast Asia,” said Clare Campbell, who directs Wildlife Asia, an Australian conservation NGO that coordinates the Karen Wildlife Conservation Initiative (KWCI), in a statement. “Thanks to the long-standing conservation efforts of the Karen people this area is a refuge for the last tigers in the region, Asian elephants and so much more.”

However, signs indicate that habitat destruction and poaching — especially for “high-value species” like tigers — may be on the rise, and the researchers argue that formal protection of the area is urgently needed.

Camera trap photos revealed the existence of tigers and 30 other species of wildlife in an area previously out of bounds for scientists due to security issues. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

5. A camera trap survey reveals a second breeding population of Indochinese tigers in Thailand.

Officials and conservationists released photographs of tiger cubs and adults in Thailand’s Dong-Phayayen Khao Yai Forest Complex in March — confirmation of just the second known breeding population of Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti) in the world. By most estimates, the country is home to at most a few hundred tigers.

In this forest complex, scientists estimate that there is approximately one tiger in every 159 square kilometers (61 square miles). That density is “exceptionally low,” but Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation heralded the tigers’ resilience in the face of the poaching and illegal logging that takes place in the forest complex. The agency credited increases in anti-poaching patrols for the continued existence of tigers in this area.

“The extraordinary rebound of eastern Thailand’s tigers is nothing short of miraculous,” said conservation biologist John Goodrich of Panthera in a statement.

“Thailand’s World Heritage Forest Complex is home to prime forested habitat that, with significant conservation resources, could support eight times as many tigers as it does now,” Goodrich added. “With continued infiltration of rigorous anti-poaching protection, there is no doubt that this population can be fully recovered.”

The existence of Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris corbetti) in Thailand’s Dong-Phayayen Khao Yai Forest Complex was hailed as ‘nothing short of miraculous.’ Camera trap image courtesy of DNP/Freeland/Panthera.
A tiger in Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, in Rajasthan, India. Photo by Koshy Koshy (Flickr: Male Tiger Ranthambhore) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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