Tiger numbers grow for first time since 1900
The world’s tiger population has increased for the first time in more than a century, according to a census released as a three-day conservation conference got underway in New Delhi on Tuesday. Environmental campaigners say it’s important to take a closer look at the figures, which show that illegal poaching poses a real threat to population recovery.
The World Wildlife Fund International (WWF) and the Global Tiger Forum found 3,890 tigers are living in the wild around the world, up from 3,200 in 2010.
After falling from an estimated global population 100,000 in 1900, the numbers represent a 20-percent increase over six years and reflect concerted conservation efforts.
But environmental groups are giving a mixed response, since numbers are up in some regions – over 70 percent of the global tiger population is in India – while they are actually down in others.
“India has taken on a very scientific, research based application of census, with a good system of making sure parks are well managed,” says Keshvar Varma, CEO of the Global Tiger Forum from the conference in New Delhi.
“The tiger is a symbol of not just being a wild animal,” he adds, referring to the wildcat’s long presence in Indian mythology and, more recently, ecological thinking. “If you want to save forests, you have to first save the tiger. Because if you first save the tiger, then you save the forest and all the other species.”
Poaching poses biggest threat to tigers
But the mentality is different farther east, where there’s a thriving market for tiger products and derivatives.
“The entire situation in southeast Asia has been under stress because of poaching and the illegal trade,” Varma says. “In Thailand and Malaysia, the numbers have gone down, and in Laos and Cambodia, tigers are on the brink of extinction.”
The consensus among conservationists is that illegal poaching is the biggest threat to the tiger’s recovery.
In Cambodia, for example, tigers are considered functionally extinct, and even efforts to reintroduce them into the wild are met with concerns about poaching.
“We need to make sure there is no illegal logging or poaching or encroachments of the human being into the core areas,” says Sam Ath Chhith, WWF’s Cambodia director. “We need to have a high commitment from the government, because without building law enforcement ensuring zero poaching, we cannot reintroduce the tiger.”
Zero demand for zero poaching
The objective of the third annual Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, organised by the Indian government, is to get regional officials coordinating conservation efforts.
It gathers environment ministers and some 700 delegates from the thirteen “tiger range” countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Campaigners say the recovery in India shows that strong laws and enforcement against the tiger trade yield real results in boosting populations.
“Any trade in tiger parts and products stimulates demands for these products and undermines enforcement and demand reduction efforts,” says Shruti Suresh, wildlife campaigner with the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency, whose delegates are calling for the conference to push for similar efforts across the region.
“The best solution for tiger recovery is an approach of zero demand to achieve zero poaching, and this needs to take place against across all thirteen tiger range states.”
One objective of the three-day conference is a plan to double the global tiger population by 2022 – a challenge, but campaigners say a concentrated effort could make the return of the tiger a roaring success.
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