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Steven Garcia 4/10/2017

Challenges and Issues in Tiger Conservation


Summary
Tigers are one of the most magnificent creatures of the modern world. For centuries they
have inspired awe, reverence, and sometimes terror in the humans that they’ve lived alongside.
Tigers are massive, muscular animals armed with razor sharp claws and massive canines that
command the Eurasian continent as its top predator (Guynup, 2014). Their large size and appetite
have brought tigers into conflict with people by preying on them and their livestock, but it has
also earned them the respect and admiration for their power and prowess as a killer. Across their
range, tigers have been experiencing pressures from poaching, retaliatory killings, habitat loss,
and competition for space (“Tiger”, 2017).
These pressures have been so significant that it has reduced the tiger population of
100,000 to 3,900 causing the species to be listed as endangered (“Tiger”, 2017). The robust
population of tigers observed a century ago contained nine tiger subspecies with three subspecies
(Bali, Caspian, Javan) now confirmed as extinct (“Tiger”, 2017). Like many felines, Tigers are
territorial and usually solitary in nature. (“Tiger”, 2017). Tigers are a K-selected species and may
live up to 26 years with females reaching sexual maturity around 3 to 4 years of age and males at
about 4 to 5 years of age (“Tiger”, 2017). Females gives birth to an average of 2-3 helpless cubs
every two years (“Tiger,2017).
Due to the long time to reach sexual maturity tigers can take longer than usual to bounce
back from disturbances. Tigers are especially affected by human hunting since the killing of a
mother can destroy the chances of survival for their young. Unfortunately, this is one of the
major drivers of tiger listing as they’ve been hunted for the illegal wildlife market and traditional
Chinese medicine. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that field biologists and conservationists
realized that traditional Chinese medicine was responsible for what had become a dramatic
decline in tiger numbers (Guynup,2014). This is an issue that extends to the social considerations
managers must consider when managing this species.
According to freelance journalist and a public policy fellow Sharon Guynup (2014)
many Asian cultures worshipped the power of the tiger, so much so that they define tigers as
gods and healers; traditional Asian medicine used the “godly” power of the tiger for medicine,
turning the tiger into a universal apothecary. However, the benefits of traditional Asian medicine
have not been thoroughly researched, especially the use of Tiger related products (Traditional
Chinese Medicine”, 2013).
“China formally banned domestic trade of tiger bone in 1993. The next year, some
Chinese medical practitioners publicly repudiated the use and efficacy of tiger remedies. Today
very few pharmacies still openly carry remedies containing tiger products, but the market slipped
underground, and shadowy networks still thrive. Though tiger hunting is illegal everywhere, the
killing has continued, and in some places, it’s accelerated” (Guynup,2014). Unfortunately, the
hunting of these beautiful animals is done for survival. The people of these countries have not
evolved empathy for these endangered animals like in America. Hunting these creatures are often
done to bring revenue or even food. This connects this already complicated social problem into
an economic and political one.
Tigers are also critically threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation caused by illegal
and commercial logging, oil palm production, pioneer farming, mining operations and forest
fires (Linkie et al., 2003). Habitat loss and fragmentation reduce the carrying capacity of tiger
communities as well as their resilience to disturbances. Once again, this problem is motivated for
survival. Many of these countries need to take advantage of their natural resources to expand
their economies. The workers that fuel these industries know the harm they are causing but the
survival of their families outweighs the lives of the wildlife.
Many of these countries have exhibited explosive population changes in the past decades.
This population growth demands that more and more land be converted to agriculture. Indonesia,
for example, has the same population as the United States, but only ten percent of the land area.
In India, where about 60% of the world’s wild tigers still roam, the human population has grown
by 50% in the past 20 years. Over the past 40 years, China’s population, the largest in the world,
has more than doubled; and 99% of China’s original forest habitat has been destroyed (Kasnoff,
2017). These factors increase the speed at which the tiger range is being reduced.
The reduced range and fragmentation has caused many populations to become isolated
from each other. The combination of isolated habitat as well as impermeable landscapes have
caused populations to have reduced genetic variation in result from inbreeding (Dou et al., 2016).
Reduced genetic variation creates a greater opportunity for problems such as lower reproduction
rates, disease spread and other problems.
These priorities transfer over to the politics of these nations where it is often very hard to
gain support to prioritize tiger conservation over economic development. This is after the fact
that most of these nations are a part of CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered
Species). However, the lack of inadequate legal structures, political commitment, and financial
resources severely limit domestic enforcement efforts (Kasnoff, 2017). The lack of financial
stability leaves many officials vulnerable to corruption. The ever-increasing demand and lowered
supply of tigers offer poachers a great incentive to bribe officials to turn the other cheek
(Kasnoff, 2017).
Unstable political conditions create a barrier for research and conservation teams to do
effective work. For example, Myanmar is home to the Indo-Chinese tiger and political
conditions have frustrated wildlife research and management for decades. It still is not known
how many tigers survive in Myanmar. Cambodia, also home to the Indo-Chinese tiger, has been
effected by decades of war, further restricting protection of the Indo-Chinese tiger (Kasnoff,
2017).
The nature of several countries make it difficult to have an accurate count of population
size. It is hard to know where to concentrate your efforts or determine if they are being effective
without proper population density data. Tigers are elusive and hard to track and count. Couple
this with unstable political situations and you have huge barriers when trying to find population
density.
Improved national legislation, international support, combined with the promotion of
alternatives to traditional Chinese medicine and habitat protection, have shown to be vital parts
of the seemingly effective strategy to save the tiger from becoming extinct (Kasnoff, 2017).
Modern strategies have shown that strong protection of wildlife reserves is incredibly effective.
International support is vital to keeping the protection of these wildlife reserves. Groups such as
WWF, act for wildlife, and Panthera all work to secure resources and influence to support tiger
conservation and the countries that make up their habitat.
For example, a leading conservatory group WWF implement of integrated approach to
conserve tiger populations and their habitat. First, they carry out surveys and research to find
preliminary information on habitat and tiger/prey numbers. They work on improving these
habitats to facilitate prey and tiger population increase as well as training personnel to effectively
protect and manage habitat (“Tiger”, 2017). Monitoring of tigers, prey and habitat is continued
through a variety of methods.
Secondly, they work with local communities and local authorities living near tigers so
that tigers and humans can successfully coexist. This is paired up with education programs in
Thailand and Cambodia to teach people about Tigers (“Tiger”, 2017). Thirdly, “WWF helps
governments across the 13 tiger range countries to respect wild tigers as a valuable asset that can
enhance their development agendas. By linking tiger conservation with forest preservation and
carbon sequestration efforts, tiger range nations and their partners can demonstrate their
commitment to promoting a healthy environmental and economic future” (Tiger”, 2017). Lastly,
WWF works with TRAFFIC, a global wildlife monitoring network to stop wildlife criminal
networks, shutting down of black markets, and change consumer behavior (“Tiger”, 2017).
These strategies are an example of the effective measure many conservatory groups have
implemented in the modern age. These strategies have shown to be effective and are partly to
thank for the recent rise in tiger numbers.

Thoughts and Reflection


Some may argue that there are more important problems than tiger conservation in these
countries. However, the tiger represents many values that we can never get back if they go
extinct. Tigers have been prominent symbols of power and beauty in Asian countries since the
beginning of civilization. The tiger represents the result of a million-year evolutionary effort to
create the perfect terrestrial predator. Its loss would mean a step back for evolution, something
that could never be undone.
Tigers are an apex predator and like many other predatory mammals (eg. Wolves), they
are an important regulatory factor in ecosystems. These large predators keep herbivore
populations in check and keep fear levels up. These heightened fear levels keep prey on the
move which limit the effects of over grazing benefitting plants. Evidence has shown that absence
of natural predators from an ecosystem (wolves) have detrimental effects on the plant life and
even the prey. Losing these magnificent animals would hinder countless ecosystems and increase
the risk of more extinctions.
Tiger conservation presents one of the ultimate conservation challenges ever faced. Like
many conservation issues one must have the biological knowledge required to make effective
management decisions. However, this is not enough, tiger conservation is deeply intertwined in a
web of social, economic, and political factors. This requires the solution to be a multi-faceted
approach the demands knowledge on how to improve these factors for the sake of the Tigers and
humans involved. This creates a need for a team of managers that are knowledgeable in all fields
or at least have access to a team and resources that can help navigate these factors.
Personally, I believe the best way to reach success is what the WWF has been doing for
years. WWF has been implementing three key strategies that are practiced among many other
conservatory groups. A breeding program that increases the genetic variation of tigers while
releasing them back into the wild is a strategy that can be fundamental in bringing genetic
variation to wild populations. Similar programs have been successful in this pursuit which makes
me question why I it is being applied at a grander scale.
One of the hardest challenges will be to change the minds of the consumer. The Asian
culture has grown used to using tigers as medicine for hundreds of years. A sudden change to
their traditions will not be taken well, especially when it will most likely be from an outside
source. However, with anything this process is possible but will probably progress slowly.

Observational Study/ Lacking Research


There are some basic areas of research such as wild tiger behaviors that have been
insufficiently covered. This can be partly blamed on the fact that there are more tigers in
captivity than in the wild. Causing many researchers to the take easy route of creating zoo
studies which often don’t reflect the natural tiger behavior. There also seems to be a conflict
between tiger experts on the exact number of tiger subspecies. According to a study “global
approaches to plan tiger recovery are partly impeded by the lack of a consensus on the number of
tiger subspecies or management units, because a comprehensive analysis of tiger variation is
lacking (Wilting et al., 2015). This basic knowledge is needed as a base to make the right
management decisions.
Research on the genetic diversity of tigers is scarce as well. Scientist have recently
discovered the reduced genetic variation of tigers which could explain the lack of scientific
articles on the issue. However, this is an incredibly important issue that would could potentially
halt the progress of the project as a whole. One area of study that can benefit from more research
is tiger behavior. The area that would be particularly interesting is how tiger behavior is affected
by human proximity. Below is an outline of study one may design that deals with this topic.

Question: Does human activity change Tiger behavior and movement?


Hypotheses: Tigers in close proximity with human activities will exhibit more erratic movement
patterns as well as more opportunistic predation.
Methods: We will attempt to capture wild tigers that are in close and far proximity to human
activities by trapping. These tigers will be fitted with a GPS collar and their movements will be
closely studied for a year. Tigers close to villages will also be studied to find information how
often they target livestock. We will setup village survey systems where farmers and civilians will
report attacks and possible observations on the tiger. Areas that are attacked often will be
reinforced with camera traps in order to see if the attacks are from a repeated offender.
Implications: This study will provide key information on the movement of tigers. As well as
how human activity affects movement patterns and hunting behavior. This knowledge will allow
wildlife managers to better assess placement of protected areas and their buffers. It will also
provide key situational knowledge on how to deal with tiger livestock predation. Specifically, if
tigers show opportunistic behavior and stay around easy predation sites such as a livestock farm.
The identification of repeat offenders as well as GPS tracking to show obvious influence in
territory preference will show human influence. Understanding this will allow managers a better
understanding of how to create a better environment that reduces tiger-human conflicts.

These challenges and complexities present several straightforward options. However, it


isn’t the creation of new solutions that represent the challenge but the implementation of them.
The protection of the tigers and their habitat is imperative when trying to stop any future effect
from poaching and development. However, the ability to protect is influenced by the countries’
socio-economic political status. This makes international support through conservation groups
and foster countries extremely important. These foster countries and groups are what build the
proper base for effective conservation where it matters.
It is important to keep in mind that many of these countries are in a period of rapid
economic growth. This growth will eventually slow down and priorities such as wildlife
conservation will be easier to pursue. This does not mean that we should wait till this happens
but it does bring hope that these challenges may not be as evident in the future as they are now.
When you look at the history of America’s wildlife conservation you can see this trend. Many
species suffered during America’s rapid economic growth throughout the 1850- 1980. Now that
the growth has slowed, many of the wildlife that struggled to survive have bounced back
successfully and in some cases, are showcasing unnaturally high populations. With this said,
there is a hopeful future for Tigers and who knows, maybe we may be dealing with a Tiger
overpopulation issue in the not so distant future.
Bibliography
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