The world's remaining tigers live in tight clusters and only by securing these sites can this striking feline be given a real chance of survival, new research led by the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society shows. The study's findings, published in the PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology journal, highlight that wild tiger numbers are at an historic low and claims that current conservation techniques are not slowing the decline in numbers. The research suggests that protecting tigers at priority sites can help reverse the decline of wild tigers in a rapid and cost-efficient manner. Despite a long history of concern for the wild tiger, the scientists point out that there are fewer than 3,500 animals now living in the wild, and even more troubling, just around a third of these tigers are breeding females, which are critical for the rearing of future generations of this striped cat. They add that over-hunting, logging, and the wildlife trade have forced the remaining animals to cluster in just 6% of their available habitat. To try to rectify the situation and rescue the world's largest cat from extinction, the study identifies 42 'source sites' scattered across Asia that the researchers claim are the last hope and greatest priority for the conservation and recovery of the tiger. 'While the scale of the challenge is enormous, the complexity of effective implementation is not,' said Joe Walston, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Programme and lead author of the study. 'In the past, overly ambitious and complicated conservation efforts have failed to do the basics: prevent the hunting of tigers and their prey.' The researchers identified India as the most important country for the species with 18 source sites, followed by Sumatra with 8 source sites and the Russian Far East with 6 sites. They insisted that this change in conservation methods was both technically possible and economically feasible. The team calculated that a total of USD 82 million (EUR 63 million) would be required to effectively manage the sites. This sum would include the cost of law enforcement, wildlife monitoring and community involvement. However, they claimed that much of this money and support was already being provided by state governments and international support, and that new funding would only have to be found for an estimated shortfall of USD 35 million (EUR 27 million). This extra cash would be used to pay for intensified proven methods of protection and monitoring on the ground, according to the scientists. 'The tiger is facing its last stand as a species,' said Dr John Robinson, Executive Vice President of Conservation and Science for the Wildlife Conservation Society. 'As dire as the situation is for tigers, we are confident that the world community will come together to save these iconic big cats from the brink for future generations. He insisted that this study gives us a roadmap to make that happen'. His colleague, Alan Rabinowitz, President and CEO of Panthera, the US wild cat conservation organisation, agreed that it was now clear what had to happen to save this species from extinction. 'We know how to save tigers,' he said. 'We have the knowledge and the tools to get the job done.' But he acknowledged that 'what we are lacking is political will and financial support' even though he pointed out that 'the price tag to save one of the planet's great iconic species is not a high one'. The researchers hope their study will be taken up by attendees at the so-called Tiger Summit, to be hosted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Russia in November 2010, where leaders of 13 tiger range states, supported by international donors and conservationists, will be asked to commit to substantive measures to prevent the extinction of the world's last wild tiger populations. Contributions to this study were made by experts from Indonesia, Russia, Switzerland, Thailand, the UK and the US.
Switzerland, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, United States