Setting Priorities for the Conservation and Recovery of Wild Tigers: 2005-2015

  • Sanderson E
  • Forrest J
  • Loucks C
 et al. 
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Abstract

Wild tigers are in a precarious state. Our best approximation concludes that tiger habitats throughout India, Indochina, and Southeast Asia are now 40% less than what we estimated in 1995. As the Economic Tigers of Asia leap onto the world stage, wild tiger populations in those countries are in steep decline; today tigers occupy a mere 7% of their historical range and the threats are mounting, rather than diminishing. A world without tigers is hard to imagine, but red fl ags are being hoisted across the tiger’s range. In India, poaching in what were thought to be well-protected Tiger Reserves has been so intense recently that it has become a national issue eliciting an investigation by a Prime Ministerial Commission. In Indochina, widespread poaching of tigers and wildlife continues to create empty forests, and the development of the proposed transnational economic corridors in the region will further fragment Indochina’s remaining forests and create dispersal barriers. In Sumatra and Malaysia, vast oil palm and acacia plantations are predicted to result in complete conversion of some of the richest lowland rain forests on Earth, habitats that were populated by tigers only a few years ago. The increasing demand for tiger parts for folk medicines in China and Southeast Asia and for costume adornment among Tibet’s growing middle-class has intensifi ed threats to tigers across the range. Despite these setbacks, this is hardly the time for inaction or retreat. To paraphrase E. O. Wilson, tigers can’t afford another century, or even another decade like the last one. Indeed, we must rededicate and galvanize our efforts to make tigers and tiger habitats a conservation imperative in the remaining landscapes of Asia. Tigers are a conservation dependent species. They require protection from killing, an adequate prey base, and adequate habitat area. While the tiger as a species may not go extinct within the next two decades, the current trajectory will surely cause wild populations to disappear in many places, or shrink to the point of “ecological extinction”— where their numbers are too few to play their role as the top predator in the ecosystem. Therefore, now, more than ever, tigers need homeland security. There are two possible strategies to ensure the future of wild tigers. One calls for securing a few tiger populations in increasingly isolated reserves while ignoring the retreat of forests outside. However, the natural history features of tigers—their need for large areas as top predators and their extreme territoriality—make this a poor option. The recent spate of killings in Tiger Reserves—regarded as the crown jewels of India’s protected areas system— suggest that providing adequate protection to insular reserves is not enough. A second approach—one which we endorse—is to create tiger landscapes, where core areas are linked with habitat corridors that allow the ecological requirements of wild tigers to be conserved as well. Such a strategy will require the support of the people living in the region. Although seemingly a diffi cult task, the successes of the Terai Arc Landscape ProjSetting Priorities for the Conservation and Recovery of Wild Tigers: 2005–2015 ect being implemented in the foothills of Nepal and Northwestern India—in the midst of some of the densest human populations in South Asia—shows that creating corridors and eliciting the support of local people for tiger conservation is indeed possible. The successes are predicated on the reality that tiger conservation also results in conservation of ecological services that support and enhance local economies and livelihoods and so are in their self-interest. Another important aspect is to keep landscapes intact for tigers, best illustrated in the Russian Far East, which not only ensures the persistence of tigers into the future but leads to natural recolonization of neighboring areas, which has happened in China. Large mammals, including tigers, have coexisted for centuries with dense human populations. The release of the 1997 Tiger Conservation Unit Analysis (TCU 1.0) identifi ed where tigers can live in the future. During the decade since, experiences from implementing fi eld conservation projects have confi rmed that the future of wildlife conservation in Asia depends on judicious land use planning—zoning—of human use areas, core wildlife habitat, buffer zones, and corridors in large conservation landscapes to restore the harmony that once existed in the wildland-village interface of rural Asia. This document, based on the concept of Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCL 2.0), improves on the original analysis by: 1) compiling more accurate satellite imagery to improve mapping of potential tiger habitat; 2) building a new spatial database of tiger status and distribution; 3) incorporating new knowledge gained about tiger biology to create a standard for measuring the quality of tiger landscapes; 4) employing a systematic measure of human infl uence on tiger habitat (the “human footprint”); 5) automating the process of landscape delineation to make updates more rapid, rigorous, and transparent; 6) analyzing the sensitivity of results to assumptions made about tiger dispersal and minimum area size to support breeding tigers; and 7) updating priorities that move tiger conservation forward emphasizing representation and resilience. TCL 2.0 is truly a “living document” that has benefi ted from open peer-review and that can continue to guide conservation efforts into the future. To learn how the analysis was done in detail, please refer to “Setting Priorities for the Conservation and Recovery of Wild Tigers: 2005–2015. The Technical Assessment.” In this User’s Guide (Dinerstein et al 2006) and the Technical Assessment, we highlight the remaining tigerlands—the large landscapes of habitat, often anchored by protected areas—that are Global Priorities for conservation. In order to go beyond the current state of tigerland, we also focus on those places where habitat restoration or improved conservation measures could bring tiger populations back from the brink of extinction. All are dependent on local, regional, national, and international support to sustain them, and must be integrated into national and regional resource and land management programs. Only such efforts can redirect the current downward trajectory to ensure survival of wild tiger populations. For this generation to deprive future generations of the chance to see or track a wild tiger or to hear its royal roar is a travesty. We have identifi ed 76 Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCLs) across the tiger’s current range (see map). Each landscape is classifi ed into a “taxonomy” measuring their contribution to current tiger conservation and further prioritized in terms of their contribution to representation of tigers across the range. Global Priority landscapes were identifi ed in all major biomes and bioregions where tigers occur. Investing in these global priorities will ensure conservation of not just tigers, but “tigerness,” the suite of adaptations tigers have evolved to live in habitats as different as mangrove swamps and boreal forests. Our results show that the Indian Subcontinent bioregion has the largest number of TCLs (40, of which 11 are of Global Priority). The Northern Forests of Nepal-India-Bhutan- Myanmar, Western and Eastern Ghats, Sundarbans, and the tall grasslands and riparian forests of the Terai Arc set the foundation for tiger conservation across a diverse array of habitats in this bioregion. Yet, this bioregion also has the most questionable habitats, where we were unable to assess or determine if tigers still do, or can, persevere in small, isolated habitat patches. The Indochina bioregion supports 20 TCLs, but these account for the largest total area (~540,000 km2) among the four bioregions, primarily because they represent vast swathes along the mountain regions of Myanmar and Thailand (notably the Tenasserim mountains range) and the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Viet Nam. Six are Global Priorities. The large areas of dry forest mosaics in Cambodia are likely the best such forest habitats for tigers across its range. Unfortunately tigers have largely been extirpated from many of the lowlands within this bioregion, and restoring tigers to these areas will require a sustained, long-term effort. Please note that TCL 37 spans both the Indian Subcontinent and Indochina bioregions and was intentionally double counted (thus included in the total number of TCLs in the Indian subcontinent and Indochina bioregion) due to the large amount of habitat present in both bioregions. The Southeast Asia bioregion includes 15 TCLs, with three being Global Priorities. The latter are primarily in the montane regions, centered on Malaysia’s Taman Negara National Park, and Sumatra’s Kerinci National Park. In Sumatra’s large Leuser ecosystem the status of tigers is unknown, but it overlaps with critical habitat for the orang-utan and Sumatran rhinoceros and has been designated as both a World Heritage Site and Man and Biosphere reserve, confi rming the importance of this ecosystem to Sumatra’s natural heritage. The Russia Far East bioregion contains two TCLs, including the world’s largest, which is 270,000 km2. This TCL is primarily in Russia, but extends into northeast China, which has recently recorded tigers on its side of the border. Although this vast mixed temperate Executive Summary Setting Priorities for the Conservation and Recovery of Wild Tigers: 2005–2015 forest TCL has approximately 10% of its area under protection, the rest is unprotected wilderness in which the tiger is still able to persist. Rapid changes due to privatization and leasing of this forest to timber industries may constrain the future of the Amur tiger. Our fi ndings show that in each of the fi rst three bioregions, the range of the tiger has contracted dramatically since 1995. Much of this change undoubtedly rests with c

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Authors

  • E Sanderson

  • J Forrest

  • C Loucks

  • J Ginsberg

  • E Dinerstein

  • J Seidensticker

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