September 15, 2010

Tiger Survival Could Hinge On Protection Of ‘Source Sites’

The world's tiger population has dipped below 3,500, and those that have managed to survive have been confined in a fraction of their available habitat, according to a new study published online in PLoS Biology on Tuesday.

The study--which was authored by researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) as well as representatives from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)/Species Survival Commission (SSC) Cat Specialist Group, the IUCN's Species Survival Commission, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Universities of Cambridge and Minnesota, and the World Bank--identifies 42 locations in Asia that have been dubbed tiger 'source sites' and represent "the last hope and greatest priority for the conservation and recovery of the world's largest cat," according to a WCS press release.

Of the under 3,500 tigers alive today, only about 1,000 have been identified as breeding females, according to the press release. The 42 sites identified by the researchers, 18 of which were located in India, were described as "sites that contain breeding populations of tigers and have the potential to seed the recovery of tigers across wider landscapes."

"With so few wild tigers remaining, almost entirely clustered in a few small areas, the most immediate need is to protect populations in the remaining source sites," the researchers wrote in their paper. However, they add, doing so will require a total investment of $82 million per year. The experts note that various agencies have already committed a sum of $47 million of funds to the project, but that there is an annual shortfall of $35 million that must be overcome.

"The tiger is facing its last stand as a species," Dr. John Robinson, the WCS's Executive Vice President of Conservation and Science, said. "As dire as the situation is for tigers, the Wildlife Conservation Society is confident that the world community will come together to save these iconic big cats from the brink for future generations. This study gives us a roadmap to make that happen."

"The long-term goal is to conserve an Asia-wide network of large landscapes where tigers can flourish," added study participant and Cambridge University scientist Nigel Leader-Williams, who on Wednesday told BBC News Environmental Correspondent Richard Black, "The immediate priority, however, must be to ensure that the few breeding populations still in existence can be protected and monitored. Without this, all other efforts are bound to fail."


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