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  WWF 20 Jul 06
Study: Tiger habitat down from just a decade ago

21 Jul 06
Tiger Habitat Shrinks By 40 Percent in 10 Years
Story by Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON - Tigers have 40 percent less habitat than they did a decade ago, due to intense poaching and the rise of an Asian middle class that puts pressure on the big cats and their environment, wildlife experts said on Thursday.

"Wild tigers and their habitats are in danger because they're suffering from international crime, economic exploitation and environmental depredation," said John Seidensticker, a scientist at the US National Zoo and chair of the Save The Tiger Fund Council, a conservation group.

"We must make live tigers worth more than dead tigers, and landscapes with tigers worth more than landscapes that are missing this most beautiful cat," Seidensticker said at a news conference held next to a zoo enclosure, where a Sumatran tiger breakfasted under a tree.

Tigers live in just 7 percent of their historic range, which once included large areas from the shores of the Black Sea to the Korean peninsula.

The biggest tiger landscapes now are in the Russian Far East and northeastern China and along the Nepal-India border, according to a report released by the World Wildlife Fund, the Save the Tiger Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The report was billed as the most comprehensive scientific study of tiger habitat.

Poaching of tigers for their parts, which are used for traditional medicines, has contributed to the animals' shrinking habitat, said Eric Dinerstein, one of the report's authors.


"There's a rising middle class in Asia that can now afford tiger parts, even though this trade is illegal," Dinerstein said.

In addition, some of the large swaths of forest that tigers need to thrive have been fragmented, and parts that remain are too isolated to support the big cats, Dinerstein said. Other parts of the tigers' range have been converted to plantations of oil palms, acacia or other crops, he said.

Estimating the number of wild tigers is difficult, Dinerstein said, but he noted that if there were an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 tigers a decade ago, there are almost certainly fewer than 5,000 now.

"There are probably more tigers alive in private hands in the state of Texas than in the wild worldwide," Dinerstein said.

The good news can be found in southern Nepal and northern India, where a five-year conservation program has connected 12 formerly isolated tiger reserves, and has engaged local communities to help with the project, said Mahendra Shrestha, director of the Save the Tiger Fund.

Communities around the tiger reserves get 50 percent of the proceeds from the reserves nearest to them, Shrestha said. If tigers kill family members or livestock, local residents are compensated, he said.

Shrestha said reclaiming the tigers' habitat could have global environmental impact. "The area that the tiger requires is a huge chunk of land," he said in an interview. "If we can save tigers, then that means we are saving a huge chunk of forest ... the global community can benefit from that."

A single tiger requires an average of nearly 20 squares miles (50 square km) of good quality forest, he said. Locally, forest products including fruit, nuts and mushrooms benefit neighboring communities, Shrestha said. And the clean water needed to support tiger habitat also supports agriculture, fish farming and hydroelectric dams, he said.

WWF 20 Jul 06
Study: Tiger habitat down from just a decade ago

Gland, Switzerland/Washington, DC ? The most comprehensive scientific study of tiger habitats ever done finds that the big cats reside in 40 percent less habitat than they were thought to a decade ago. The tigers now occupy just 7 per cent of their historic range.

This landmark study, produced by some of the world's leading tiger scientists at WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park and Save The Tiger Fund, calls for specific international actions to safeguard remaining populations.

The study "Setting Priorities for the Conservation and Recovery of the World?s Tigers 2005-2015" finds that conservation efforts, such as protection from poaching, preservation of prey species and preservation of tigers' natural habitat, have resulted in some populations remaining stable and even increasing. But it concludes that long-term success is only achieved where there is a broad landscape-level conservation vision with buy-in from stakeholders.

"This report documents a low-water mark for tigers and charts a way forward to reverse the tide," said John Robinson of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "We can save tigers forever. However, tiger conservation requires commitment from local partners, governments and international donors, along with effective, science-based conservation efforts to bring the species back to all parts of its biological range."

Synthesizing land-use information, maps of human influence and on-the-ground evidence of tigers, the study identifies 76 'tiger conservation landscapes' -- places that have the best chance of supporting viable tiger populations into the future.

Large carnivore populations like tigers are highly vulnerable to extinction in small and isolated reserves. Half of the 76 landscapes can still support 100 tigers or more, providing excellent opportunities for recovery of wild tiger populations.

The largest tiger landscapes exist in the Russian Far East and India. Southeast Asia also holds promise to sustain healthy tiger populations although many areas have lost tigers over the last ten years.

"As tiger range spans borders, so must tiger conservation," said Eric Dinerstein, Chief Scientist at WWF-US. "Asia's economic growth must not come at the expense of tiger habitat and the natural capital it protects."

The group's key conclusion from the study is that to safeguard remaining tigers, increased protection of the 20 highest priority tiger conservation landscapes is required. The group also stands ready to support the 13 countries with tigers in a regional effort to save the species. The report's authors suggest that the heads of state of those countries convene a 'tiger summit' to elevate tiger conservation on their countries' agendas.

"Saving wild tigers requires tiger range countries to work together," said Mahendra Shrestha, Director of National Fish and Wildlife Foundation?s Save The Tiger Fund. "We have learned many important lessons over the last ten years and this study provides a blueprint for scientists and the countries that hold the key for the tigers' survival."

In addition to preserving tiger habitat, conservation groups warn that it is critical to also address poaching of tigers. Groups say authorities must curb the demand for the skins and parts of tigers and other Asian big cats and strengthen enforcement efforts along trade routes, in transit markets and markets in Asia.

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