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Reducing Poaching to Save Tigers

With as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild, Dr. Barney Long, Manager of Asian Species Conservation Programs at WWF, talks about why we must aim for zero poaching. 

What is driving tiger poaching?

BL: There are many demands for tiger products. Many of the traditional uses of tiger products are decreasing such as the:

  • use of tiger skins in Tibetan clothing
  • use of various tiger products in traditional medicines
  • belief that tiger parts have magical powers

However, we are seeing an alarming increase in the use of tiger products as a status symbol. People are spending vast amounts of money to buy tiger tonics and meat.

What needs to be done?

BL: The global community needs to support park rangers, who are conservation heroes on the frontline of this war. Rangers live in remote places, away from their family for long periods, and often in very bad conditions. In many countries they are also unarmed yet have to deal with poachers equipped with sophisticated weapons.

Secondly, we need to invest in technology for rangers so that they are being as effective as possible. WWF would like to make sure all of them have computerized databases linked with GPS-based tracking systems to help improve their patrolling efforts.

And we have to tackle illegal wildlife trafficking. It’s very difficult to do this at the international scale, but many actions can be taken that would make significant impacts.  Wildlife trafficking can be effectively controlled by national enforcement agencies when they see it as an important issue.

What is the Zero Poaching Initiative?

BL: It’s a WWF initiative to reduce poaching in tiger landscapes to as close to zero as we can possibly get it. Ideally we would want zero poaching, but realistically with the high demand, there is always going to be some level of poaching just like there is always some level of crime. We are working closely with rangers and protected area staff, many of who put their lives on the line to protect tigers.

Why is Zero Poaching critical to WWF’s goal of TX2—doubling the number of tigers in the wild by the year 2022?

BL: It’s critical because it’s the only thing that’s going to get us to double the tiger population by 2022. We need to secure core populations of tigers and make sure that every time they breed, the cubs survive and breed themselves. The only way we can do that is to maintain zero poaching so that tiger populations are safe and on the rise. Biologically, it is possible to double the number of tigers even before 2022. These wild cats breed very well and extremely fast when given enough space, prey, and protection.

What will success look like for the Zero Poaching initiative?

BL: It would be successful when we have information that shows violations within tiger habitats significantly decreasing year in and year out. We need to ensure each of the major tiger reserves has enforcement monitoring systems in place with an adequate numbers of rangers. Those rangers then need to be properly looked after in terms of equipment, health and life insurance and accommodations.

How can wildlife lovers help?

BL: Let me begin with the most obvious: Never buy any tiger products. Whether it’s real or fake, don’t buy it.

Next, spread the word about how we are losing our wild tigers. If you know someone is interested in buying tiger parts or products, let them know it comes at a cost to the whole planet.