PICTURED: A Bengal tiger in the wild. PC: Rohit Varma. CC 4.0.
Story at a glance…
The tiger home countries have been trying to double wild tiger numbers over the last ten years.
While they won’t likely make the goal of 6,000 tigers by 2022, most of the countries have increased wild tiger numbers.
A new report from the IUCN’s integrated Tiger Habitat Program shows population increases and how many different ways there are to protect big cats.
A new report from one of the major players in tiger conservation shows increases in tiger numbers across Myanmar, central and southern India, and Nepal as high as 92% in some places, and 40% on average.
The report has been published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) six months before the Chinese lunar calendar will usher in the Year of the Tiger, upon which a bold conservation strategy initiated in the early 2010s will arrive at its deadline.
The goal was given the acronym “TX2,” or “tigers times-two,” and was a cooperation between the 13 tiger range countries to try and double the number of wild tigers over ten years. The last rigorous scientific surveys showed the population increasing from about 3,200 to 3,900 between 2010 and 2016. with limited surveying in some countries potentially putting that at a hundred less or a hundred more.
The new report spans 2016 to present day, and looks at how different strategies impacted tiger conservation across a number of linked sites known as the Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Program (ITHCP). These include some iconic subcontinental wilderness areas such as the Sundarbans, Manas Tiger Reserve, the Western Ghats, and Terai, as well as a smattering of sites across Southeast Asia, and Sumatra.
The bottom line is that these five years represent a huge success for conservation strategies in the ITHCP, with tiger numbers doubling in some locations. Habitat restoration has also been extensive, with an area twice the size of Yellowstone Park being returned to tiger habitat through native tree planting strategies.
Pawprint for success
Tiger numbers increased 40% on average across all the various habitats; from 770 to 966 individuals. Some of these gains were achieved in unexpected ways.
“The project contributed to an increase of 82% in the tiger population, achieved mainly through human-tiger conflict mitigation measures,” writes Hem Baral, at the Zoological Society of London, reporting from the Nepal tiger landscape in Western Tarai.
Baral would add that by “equitable participation of marginalized households directly through a wide range of sustainable livelihood strategies through community banking,” people were less likely to make a living through destroying tiger habitat, poaching, or livestock ranching.
This was the same story in the Sundarbans in eastern India, where forest-dwelling communities would often kill tigers that threatened them or their livestock. Krishnendu Basak from the Wildlife Trust of India wrote that the ITHCP work reduced conflict incidents by about 60%.
Conservationists from Myanmar and Sumatra, where tigers are extremely close to becoming locally extinct, reported similar successes through greater poaching patrols and community outreach. In 2016 there were 14 tigers in Sumatra; now there are 23. ITHCP also meant that conservationists in Myanmar finally had the chance to survey their population for the first time, estimating it to be about 21.
Also critical were the efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflict through predator-proof fencing, of which 138,000 kilometers worth was funded for, while conflicts between tiger, leopard, and human were reduced by 75% in the transboundary area between India and Bangladesh, as well as two sites in Nepal.
Lastly, landscape restoration among the 54,000 square kilometers of the ITHCP has seen 482,000 native trees planted, and 6,700 square kilometers of tiger habitat restored, often through engaging local communities. Much of this restoration was done through vital corridors in India that allow tigers to move from major habitat areas safely.
The German Development Bank, which financed the ITHCP with a €20 million grant to start with, have re-signed on for another €12.5 million, presumably once they began seeing the successes. The new money will also expand the project area into higher-altitude zones where current theory states the tiger is moving into more and more because of a warming climate.
WaL wrote at the last update from IUCN on TX2…
While there may be 2,000 tigers less than are needed to double the populations, there are scores of mini-victories to be hailed in this 12-year quest to restore a piece of the former glory of an animal that has captivated Asian cultures for thousands of years.
If in 13 months when the fireworks go off, 1,000 more tigers wander the forests of Asia than before, that is still something to celebrate.
Make that 1,200 more tigers.