Together We Can Save Tigers
Fewer than 3,200 wild tigers exist in the world today. Of this remnant population, just 1,000 are breeding females, individuals that hold the last hope for this magnificent and iconic great cat. WCS is working to conserve tigers in 9 of the 12 countries where they remain in the wild—Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Russia. Areas that are suitable for tigers and their prey, however, are becoming smaller and more isolated. In a major new study, WCS has identified 42 "source sites" that are vital for the future of tigers. Nearly 70 percent of wild tigers occur within these source sites, though they represent just 6 percent of the tiger’s habitat. Without these sanctuaries—where tiger populations can continue to hunt, breed, grow and live relatively free of poaching, habitat loss, and conflicts with humans—the big cats will likely go extinct.
In 2006, WCS and its conservation partner Panthera launched Tigers Forever. This ambitious, collaborative effort aims to increase tiger numbers by 50 percent in eight tiger landscapes across Asia by 2012. Many of the 42 source sites fall within these landscapes, from the rainforests of southern India to the snowy mountains of Siberia.
A major opportunity to see this goal through will occur at the November 2010 Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, where heads of governments from across tiger territory will meet to agree on what action is necessary to save these majestic cats. John Robinson, WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science, describes the summit as "the most significant meeting ever held to discuss and decide the fate of a single non-human species."
It's Been Done Before
For more than a century, WCS has been helping wildlife bounce back from the brink of extinction. Take the American bison: just two centuries ago, between 30 and 60 million of these shaggy behemoths roamed North America, from Mexico to Canada. But in the late nineteenth century, their population had crashed, owing to sport-hunting and mass slaughters. In 1906, only about 1,000 bison, wild and captive, remained on the continent. WCS—then less than a decade old—decided to act. We founded the American Bison Society, and sent an envoy of 15 bison from the Bronx Zoo to the Western Plains via railway car. Those animals helped establish new herds, and more than a century later, wild bison still roam parts of western North America.
A future for tigers is also possible. In the last 30 years, through our on-the-ground conservation work, tigers in India’s Malenad-Mysore landscape have quadrupled. These tigers, 220 in number, have gone on to populate five other source sites in the region. But we can’t do it alone. In India, we partnered with the federal government, NGOs, other scientists, and local communities to help these big cats to rebound. The Malenad-Mysore tigers now represent one of the largest population of wild tigers in the world. Our goal is to apply what we learned in India to other sites throughout Asia.