Significant opportunity to boost nature recovery by expanding the tiger’s range, signals new WWF report
Posted on 22 August 2022
- WWF’s report demonstrates that the current tiger range, which has shrunk by 95% over the past 100 years, has the potential to increase by an additional 1.7 million km2, which is more than double its current size.
- These range recovery areas cover landscapes across 15 countries, including all current tiger range countries and five where tigers are believed to have gone extinct — Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Lao PDR, Pakistan, and Viet Nam.
- The report calls on tiger range country governments to include range expansion targets in their commitments through the Global Tiger Recovery Program (2022 - 2034) that is currently under development.
The report, Restoring Asia’s Roar: Opportunities for tiger recovery across their historic range, highlights that many of these recovery areas, such as the Cardamom rainforest in Southwest Cambodia, serve as critical carbon sinks. Protecting these biodiversity strongholds, and other important landscapes, for tiger recovery would not only help contribute to global climate change mitigation goals but would also generate significant top-down ecological benefits to people, wildlife and the planet.
But restoring tigers to these landscapes will only be successful with the full backing and participation of local communities, the report stresses. Factoring both social (including indigenous peoples and local communities) and political support for conservation is a key component of any future tiger recovery agenda.
According to the report, tiger range expansion in many landscapes could be largely driven by the natural movements of tigers between habitats. It demonstrates that in every current tiger range country but China, the majority of range recovery areas were within 100 km of current tiger populations — well within the documented distance that tigers are known to disperse.
There is recent evidence that such dispersal events are currently taking place, for example, in the Himalayan foothills of Bhutan and eastern Nepal. In 2020, cameras in Nepal’s Ilam district captured a tiger at 3165m — the highest documented altitude for tigers in the country and 250 km east of Nepal’s known tiger range.
In potential recovery areas where tigers have gone extinct, such as Cambodia, Kazakhstan, and Lao PDR, active reintroduction may be the only choice for tiger recovery. Efforts to fulfill a landmark plan to restore tigers in Kazakhstan by 2025 are already underway, beginning with prey base restoration and consultations with local communities.
Stuart Chapman, WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative Lead, said: “Although global tiger numbers have increased in the last few years, the area occupied by tigers continues to shrink. Bringing back the tiger's roar to the forests and grasslands where tigers once roamed is a bold and ambitious conservation vision for Asia's most iconic and endangered big cat.”
Smriti Dahal, Community Lead at WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative, said: “Tiger conservation strategies should not only consider where tigers are now, but also prepare for where tigers can and need to be far into the future, to ensure more effective human-tiger coexistence outcomes. Studying the social landscape of sites where tigers could move to and engaging with local communities as equal partners early in the process is crucial. Bringing tigers back needs to equitably benefit everyone. Introducing appropriate area-based conservation mechanisms, in collaboration with local communities, will be needed to secure many of these areas for tiger range expansion.”
Thomas Gray, Tiger Recovery Lead at WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative, said: "As an indicator species, tigers are barometers for ecological well-being; the presence of tigers suggests a robust, functioning environment that can effectively contribute to planetary health - something we need now, more than ever. Expanding the tiger’s current range — and strengthening the vast array of biodiversity and cultural heritage that it encompasses — remains the best way to ensure a long-term and sustainable future for Asia’s beloved tiger and all life that shares its home.”
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