The International Tiger Day

Saving tiger population from extinction

Tarequl Islam Munna | Published: July 28, 2018 21:16:34 | Updated: August 01, 2018 21:43:09

-UNB File Photo

July 29, Global Tiger Day comes as a reminder of a crisis: Tiger population in Bangladesh has been on the decline for many years now. And Tiger is an endangered species, globally. The reasons are aplenty - poaching, loss of habitat, and other human conflicts.

In saving the tigers from extinction, it is not just about saving one animal species but a whole ecosystem. Tigers depend on the forest and in turn, the forest depends on the tiger.

Tigers have been on the planet for about two million years with the earliest fossils having been discovered in Java nearly 1.6-1.8 million years ago. Once ranging widely across Asia, their range has shrunk of late. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says tigers worldwide are in serious danger of facing extinction.

An ambitious Global Tiger Recovery Programme and Conservation Goal to double the number of wild tigers by the year 2022 was set by the governments of 13 tiger range countries. The countries are India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China and Russia. The goal, according to the WWF and International Tiger Forum, is called Tx2.

As per the WWF estimates, the tiger population across the world has grown from 3,200 to 3,890 in a period of five years, a 22 per cent increase (up to 2016).

Breeding the population of Tigers is currently found in eight range states -- India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Russia. India is home to 70 per cent of global tiger population. Therefore, the country has an important role to play in tiger conservation.

Bangladesh-India Joint Tiger Census Project conducted the tiger census in 2015 examining some 1,500 images and footprints of the animal taken from Sundarban through camera trapping and found the horribly low figure of tigers. In the first phase of the Bangladesh-India joint tiger census project, completed in April 2015 after beginning on November 01, 2013, some 89 infrared cameras were used to capture tigers' movements within a 3,000-sqkm area in the Bangladesh part of Sundarban. The second phase of tiger census project, that began on November 12, 2014, is using the camera trapping method.

Bangladesh has to wait until 2019 to know whether the number of tigers in Sunderban has gone up or fallen further, said officials conducting a census in the country's lone natural tiger habitat.

WWF fears that the tiger population may disappear by the end of this century as the rising sea levels caused by climate change destroy their habitat in Sundarban. A UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by India and Bangladesh at the mouth of the Ganges River, Sundarban is the world's largest single block of mangrove forest.

Using the rates of sea level rise projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Fourth Assessment Report (2007), the authors of the study wrote that a 28cm sea level rise may be realised around 2070, at which point the tigers will be unlikely to survive in Sundarban. However, recent research suggests that the seas may rise even more swiftly than that was predicted in the 2007 IPCC assessment.

Most conservationists agree that strong protection of wildlife reserves has been the key to the endangered tigers' survival so far. It is vital, however, that wildlife conservation and habitat protection are not isolated solutions, but an important part of a multifaceted tiger survival strategy.

Habitat loss is only one of several significant threats to the endangered tigers' survival. As long as the demand and market for tiger parts in traditional Chinese medicine thrive, lives of tigers will continue to remain threatened. Economic and political circumstances within many of the tiger countries also require serious attention and international support.

As crown predators, tigers sit on top of the food chain. If there is insufficient prey for them to hunt, their numbers will not increase. Ensuring adequate numbers of animals as prey is a challenge faced by all tiger conservationists. Animal experts are beginning to obtain field permits to survey and monitor tigers in politically and economically unstable countries, and continue to work with the governments to preserve key tiger habitat and establish protective reserves. Financial and professional support for these efforts is vital if we are to save the wild tiger before the very last one is gone like Bali, Caspian and Javan tigers.

TIGER SUBSPECIES: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognises nine subspecies. The six subspecies still found in the wild are: 1. Bengal tiger, 2. Siberian tiger, 3. Indochinese tiger, 4. Malayan tiger, 5. South China tiger, 6. Sumatran tiger. Three considered to be critically endangered are: 1. The South China Tiger, 2. The Sumatran Tiger, and 3. The Malayan Tiger. And three further subspecies declared extinct are: 1. Bali, 2. Caspian, and 3. Javan Tigers. All three have been extinct due to hunting, poaching and a loss of habitat. Together, these have resulted in the extinction of three of these subspecies just a decade ago.

The Bali tiger is an extinct subspecies of tiger that used to be found solely on the Indonesian island of Bali. It was one of three subspecies of tigers found in Indonesia, together with the Javan tiger, which is also extinct, and the critically endangered Sumatran tiger. It was the smallest of the tiger subspecies. Bali tigers were last positively recorded from western Bali in the late 1930s. The Bali Barat National Park was established in 1941 in tiger habitat, but it is likely that Bali tiger became extinct by the end of World War II or possibly as late as the early 1950s. The Bali tiger is classified as extinct by the IUCN.

The Caspian tiger is an extinct tiger subspecies also known as the Hyrcanian tiger, the Mazandaran tiger, the Persian tiger and the Turanian tiger. Caspian Tigers were found in the sparse forest habitats and riverine corridors west (Turkey) and south (Iran) of the Caspian Sea and west through Central Asia into the Taklamakan desert of Xinjiang, China. The Caspian tiger is an extinct tiger subspecies with the last records in the wild dates back to early 1970s. The Caspian tiger is also classified as extinct by the IUCN.

The Javan tiger is an extinct tiger subspecies that used to be available on the Indonesian island of Java until the mid-1970s. Javan tigers were last positively recorded from Java's MeruBetiri National Park in 1976. They most possibly disappeared from much of the remaining part of the island - outside the park boundries - by the 1940s. It is estimated that only 20-25 Javan tigers remained on Java island by the mid-1950s. The Javan tiger is also classified as extinct by the IUCN.

A recent project by the WWF and IUCN plans to one day bring back tigers to the Caspian, beginning with Kazakhstan. "We think, it's a good idea to restore this legendary animal to the habitats where it lived only 50 or 60 years ago," says Mikhail Paltsyn, a doctoral candidate at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Paltsyn is also a member of the WWF and IUCN and a researcher for the restoration programme.

Tarequl Islam Munna, a columnist and conservator of wildlife and environment,  is a correspondent of American International News Service.


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