Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tiger numbers at catastrophic levels.

By Paul Eccleston
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 30/08/2007

There may now be as few as 1300 wild tigers left in India.

In pictures: Tigers under threat
Tiger numbers are nearly beyond saving
Tiger facts

A new scientifically-based count reveals the true extent of the catastrophic fall in tiger numbers. The last count in 2002 - based on the number of footprints found - put tiger numbers at 3,600 but this survey has now been discredited.

'If this trend continues, the wild populations will disappear from many more places'
Renowned Indian conservationist Valmik Thapar said the latest census signalled "the end of the tiger for most of India."

The Indian government is now involved in a desperate race to preserve the few tigers that are left and save the wild species from extinction.

But the signs are not hopeful and experts forecast that the wild tiger, the largest of the big cats, will disappear and in a relatively short space of time could be seen only in a few heavily-protected reserves.

The latest survey was led by Dr J VJhala - one of the few Indian wildlife biologists with an international reputation.

His team, from the Wildlife Institute of India and trained forest officers, spent 352,000 man-days sampling 21,989 forest beats, walked 132,000km of line transects and completed 330,000km of carnivore sign surveys.

They drew up maps highlighting high, medium or low density tiger areas, and set up thousands of camera traps in representative samples of each area. This enabled them to count absolute tiger populations and establish solid benchmarks so extrapolations could be made.

The final estimate of 1,300-2,200 animals does not mean that India has lost 50-60 per cent of its tigers since 2002, however, because previous counts were inaccurate and therefore not comparable.

The new census which pinpoints the tiger's few remaining strongholds, provides a realistic basis from which scientists and conservationists can work.

The findings, revealed in the latest edition of the BBC Wildlife Magazine tally with a report earlier this year in the journal BioScience which said that in 10 years tiger habitat had declined by 41 per cent.

Dr Eric Dinerstein of the World Wildlife Fund and 15 co-authors, concluded: "While the tiger as a wild species will most likely not become extinct within the next half century, its current trajectory is catastrophic.

"If this trend continues, the wild populations will disappear from many more places, or dwindle to the point of ecological extinction."

In India the tiger has been squeezed by the massive growth in the human population with the consequent loss of its traditional habitats. Lack of food has meant it has been almost impossible for the tiger to survive outside protected areas.

Poaching - fuelled by the demand for tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine - is still widespread. Two years ago the Sariskar Reserve in Rajasthan was found to be completely emptied of tigers by poachers.

The shocking discovery forced the Indian government to take action. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has taken personal control of a new and possibly final attempt to save the tiger from extinction.

He has set up a new autonomous National Tiger Conservation Authority with powers to oversee more effective management of reserves which in the past have been ineffective in protecting the dwindling number of animals.

The Prime Minister has said he wants to see results before the end of the year. Diane Walkington, head of species at WWF, said there was still time to save the tiger.

"The figures are frightening but I am hopeful. At least now we have figures that give us a proper starting point. Fortunately tigers will breed like rabbits given the right conditions. The most important thing is we connect tiger populations that are still viable.

We must extend their areas and build links to their habitats so they can migrate from one place to another. If necessary we must move wild tigers from one place to another."

She said it was vital the Indian government and conservation bodies were given international backing in their efforts to save the tiger.


No comments: