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What’s hobbling the global effort to save the tiger?

In 2010, 13 countries committed to doubling big cat numbers. A survey seeking an information baseline has sent out an urgent wake-up call, even though India has not done too badly

Written by Sowmiya Ashok | New Delhi |
Updated: March 16, 2018 12:35:14 pm
What’s hobbling the global effort to save the tiger? Southeast Asian sites worst managed; Sites in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal are better off. (File)

In November 2010, the first “Tiger Summit” in St Petersburg, Russia, endorsed a Global Tiger Recovery Programme aimed at reversing the rapid decline of tigers, and doubling their numbers by 2022. India was one of the 13 tiger range countries that participated in the gathering, at which leaders committed to “drawing up action plans to strengthen reserves, crack down on poachers and provide financial assistance to maintain a thriving tiger population”.

A continuing crisis

A rapid survey across 112 tiger conservation areas in 11 range countries has now shown that at least a third of these areas are at severe risk of losing their tigers due to poor management. Three of the 13 countries, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia have lost all their tigers. The survey was carried out by Conservation Assured | Tiger Standards (CA | TS) support group members, experts, and government officials, covering “approximately 70% of the global wild tiger population across over 20,000 km of the tiger range”.

Only 12.5% of surveyed sites met the full CA | TS criteria — a “conservation tool to set minimum standards for effective management of target species and to encourage assessment of these standards in relevant conservation/protected areas”. Just over half (52.5%) reported fairly strong management, although improvements were needed. A majority of the rest had relatively weak management. In 87% of sites, tiger monitoring was being implemented. All sites surveyed in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, and Russia had management plans, while several in Southeast Asia did not. The results were published this week in a report, Safe Havens for Wild Tigers.

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At the time of the St Petersburg Summit, the World Bank’s The Global Tiger Initiative had estimated wild tiger populations at 1,200-1,650 in India, 450-700 in Indonesia, 400 in Bangladesh, 350 each in Nepal and Russia, 300-500 in Malaysia, 250-500 in Thailand, about 100 in Myanmar, 70-80 in Bhutan, 40-50 in China, 50 in Laos, 10-50 in Cambodia, and fewer than 30 in Vietnam. Tigers roamed at least 25 countries at the beginning of the 20th century; their numbers had since declined by 97%, the Summit estimated.

S P Yadav, a former Deputy Inspector General of the Union Environment Ministry’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), who was head of the Indian delegation at the Summit, told The Indian Express: “This study shows the reality of the progress made under the St Petersburg Declaration. Though tiger numbers have increased from 3,500 in 2010 to approximately 3,850 in 2016, we cannot rejoice or slow down our efforts.”

Why the survey?

The year-long CA | TS survey began in early 2017 in “tiger reserves, national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries which have tigers”. Critical tiger conservation areas in all “extant tiger range countries” representing all tiger landscapes were surveyed, and 180 sites with the largest population of tigers, and one site in Cambodia which is critical for recovery of wild tigers, were approached by the Global Tiger Forum.

The objective of the survey was to provide a baseline of information against which to measure progress in the future. “The results show whether or not governments are investing sufficient funds into tiger conservation. The information will assist the CA | TS partnership (a wide range of governments and funding bodies) in setting priorities for the most effective conservation investment, capacity building and training,” says the survey report.

Training and resources


Three-quarters of the surveyed sites had insufficient staff and lacked adequate management infrastructure, a crippling blow to efforts to stop poaching, manage community relations, and ensure safe havens for tigers and other wildlife. Only 16 of 112 sites had intelligence-driven anti-poaching processes in place.

What happens now

The results are a “wake-up call” for all tiger range governments and stakeholders, Yadav said. “The results will be presented in the stocktaking conference on tiger conservation in Indonesia in 2018, and a roadmap will be prepared towards achieving the global goal set in St Petersburg,” he said.

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First published on: 02-03-2018 at 12:28:43 am
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