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Tigers Could Roam Once More in Central Asia

WWF applauds government of Kazakhstan on innovative effort to reintroduce tigers where they were previously extinct

WASHINGTON, DC, April 13, 2011 – WWF applauds government of Kazakhstan on innovative effort to reintroduce tigers where they were previously extinct.

Tigers could once again inhabit Central Asia under a new plan by the Kazakhstan government to reintroduce them in part of the country where the species went extinct decades ago. World Wildlife Fund (WWF), together with the government and experts of the Republic of Kazakhstan, announced today a new program to return tigers to the region.

The plan seeks to relocate Amur tigers from the Russian Far East to suitable habitat in Kazakhstan near the delta of the Ili River.

The Caspian tiger, which was last seen in the wild in Kazakhstan in the late 1970s before disappearing as a result of poaching and habitat loss, has recently been shown to be genetically similar to living Amur tigers and therefore the Amur tiger offers an appropriate genetic source for potential reintroductions to the former range of the tiger in the Caspian region.

In March 2011, the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov underlined his interest in developing the tiger restoration program during a meeting with WWF officials.

"We have agreed that WWF and the Ministry of Environment in Kazakhstan will draw up a comprehensive program to reintroduce the tiger in the area around Lake Balkhash", said WWF-Russia Director Igor Chestin. “With a strong plan and proper protections in place, tigers can again roam the forests and landscapes of Central Asia.”

Research done in 2010 showed that the Ili River Basin has around a million acres of suitable tiger habitat. 

“The Kazakhstan government is seizing a great opportunity to help tigers, and we congratulate them for it” said Dr. Barney Long, manager of Asian species conservation for WWF.  “Efforts to grow the global tiger population will certainly benefit from expanding the tiger’s existing range.”

At the historic tiger summit hosted by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in November 2010, tiger range countries committed to an ambitious Global Tiger Recovery Program that would double the number of wild tigers by 2022. At the summit, Prime Minister Putin also expressed a willingness to assist Kazakhstan with a tiger reintroduction program.

Tigers numbered more than 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century. Habitat loss and illegal wildlife trade has resulted in as few as 3,200 wild tigers today. They occupy a mere 7 percent of their historic range and are scattered across 13 countries, including Russia.