Enough forests remain to reach the target of doubling the global tiger population by 2022, new research suggests. One of Asia's largest predator, the tiger is one of the planet's most endangered species, with less than 3,500 animals thought to be still alive.
Poaching and habitat destruction have been blamed for this situation. In 2010, world leaders agreed to act against such threats. International leaders, including four heads of state from the 13 countries where tigers live, agreed on a global recovery goal. They officially decided to double the wild tiger population by 2022. The real problem was whether or not there was enough wild habitat remaining to allow tigers to proliferate.
The latest research, published in Conservation Biology, investigates this issue by monitoring the presence of forests and the pace at which they have been destroyed between 2001 and 2014. They also determined strategies to better track and prevent wild habitat destruction.
Decrease in forest loss
The authors used satellite-based monitoring systems Google Earth and tree-cover-loss alert system Global Forest Watch to track the long-term evolution of forests in the aforementioned 13 countries. This allowed them to analyse 14 years of forest loss data in 76 landscapes that have been prioritised for the conservation of tigers.
Despite an overall decline over the years, the scientists were surprised to find the loss was much lower than anticipated, with only 7.7% of habitat lost since 2001.
However, they did find differences across countries. Out of the 76 landscapes, 29 were deemed particularly important for tiger conservation and proliferation. A majority showed little change, but 10 of them accounted for 98% of all habitat loss. According to the scientists, this would be enough for the wild tiger population to double by 2022, if these prioritised habitats did not suffer further erosion.
Strategies for doubling population
The study makes different proposals to make sure this deterioration does not happen. The authors say that monitoring forest loss is essential, and they believe it should be used again in the future as a real-time tracking tool, between less-frequent ground surveys, to anticipate potential future habitat destruction.
They also recommend that state leaders have essential green 'corridors' restored in the most deforested landscapes, and implement smarter green infrastructure, with lower costs to forests. Finally, they say transferring remaining tigers to the best conserved forest areas should be prioritised to allow them to proliferate.