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A Future for Tigers

New study charts how wild tiger numbers could double by 2022

Asian tiger reserves can support more than 10,000 wild tigers—three times the current estimate—if they are managed as large-scale landscapes that protect core breeding sites and benefit local communities, according to the world’s leading conservation scientists in a new study published on January 25. This positive news reveals that doubling the number of tigers in the wild is feasible.

“In the midst of a crisis, it’s tempting to circle the wagons and only protect a limited number of core protected areas, but we can and should do better,” said Dr. Eric Dinerstein, Chief Scientist at WWF and co-author of the study. “We absolutely need to stop the bleeding, the poaching of tigers and their prey in core breeding areas, but we need to go much further and secure larger tiger landscapes before it is too late.”

Wild tiger numbers have declined to as few as 3,200 today compared to 100,000 a century ago, due to poaching of tigers and their prey, habitat destruction and human-tiger conflict. “A Landscape-Based Conservation Strategy to Double the Wild Tiger Population” in the current issue of Conservation Letters provides the first assessment of the political commitment made by all 13 tiger range countries at November’s historic tiger summit to double the tiger population across Asia by 2022. The study found that the 20 priority tiger conservation landscapes with the highest probability of long-term tiger survival could support more than 10,500 tigers, including about 3,400 breeding females.

“Tiger conservation is the face of biodiversity conservation and competent sustainable land-use management at the landscape level,” said study co-author Dr. John Seidensticker of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “By saving the tiger we save all the plants and animals that live under the tiger’s umbrella.”

The study also revealed that major infrastructure projects such dams, roads and mines will threaten tiger landscapes in the next decade. However, channeling revenues to communities from wildlife tourism, forest management in corridors and buffer zones, and earning carbon credits will provide new opportunities.

Read the full study

View a map of the 12 best places to double the number of tigers in the wild

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“Without strong countervailing pressures, short-term economic gains will inevitably trump protection of the critical ecosystems necessary for sustainable development,” said Keshav Varma, Program Director of the Global Tiger Initiative at the World Bank.

The study calls for mainstreaming wildlife conservation to shift to well-funded efforts to protect core areas and larger landscapes, a challenging task that will require innovation through arrangements that benefit the rural communities living in these landscapes. Countries like Nepal are already looking closely at building alliances and partnerships for better landscape management that benefits both people and tigers.

"Following the St. Petersburg Declaration, Nepal has committed to the goal of doubling wild tiger numbers across our country by 2022,” said Deepak Bohara, Nepal’s Minister for Forests and Soil Conservation. “This analysis shows that it can be done, not just in Nepal, but, if done right with careful study and planning, across the entire tiger range. It is also worth noting that the tiger conservation provides carbon credits, protects water resources, and complements community development efforts.  Thus, it is important to promote regional cooperation to maintain a healthy tiger corridor between different reserves.”