Threat to tigers focus of Thai meeting

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Threat to tigers focus of Thai meeting

Updated January 27, 2010 14:19:01

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Ministers from 13 countries are gathering in Hua Hin, Thailand for a three-day meeting on securing the future of the tiger. Tigers are found in 13 countries in Asia, but nowhere are they safe – tiger numbers have declined from an estimated 100,000, a century ago, to an estimated 3,000 today. In a report released this week, animal protection group WWF says the tiger population in the Greater Mekong region has plunged 70 per cent in just 12 years.

Presenter: Stephanie Foxley
Speakers: Dr Robert Steinmetz, head, Conservation Biology Unit, WWF Thailand; Rachel Lowry, Zoos Victoria Community Conservation Manager

FOXLEY: The WWF the World Wildlife Fund is planning a year of action in this the Year of the Tiger to save the tiger from extinction. Ministers from 13 tiger range countries are about to meet in Hua Hin inThailand to discuss the future of the tiger. Dr Robert Steinmetz Head of the Conservation Biology Unit at WWF Thailand, says tiger numbers worldwide have diminished significantly.

STEINMETZ: Tigers have been declining for a number of decades now and it’s reached a critical point, so, to be honest we could lose the tiger like we’ve lost other species in this region, in Asia. We’ve lost other large mammals like the kouprey and the Schomburgk’s deer. Tigers have a couple of things going for them, they can be prolific breeders, if they’re given enough prey and enough space. We have a few core areas with relatively large populations, breeding populations, that we know are reproducing. So, tigers are not going to go extinct, but there’s going to be very few places where they still have reasonably large populations.

FOXLEY: Rachel Lowry, Zoos Victoria’s general manager of community conservation, agrees.

LOWRY: Ultimately we need to put our efforts into saving habitat. That’s what it’s going to come down to largely, and also tackling this trade that’s going on between India and China for medicinal purposes. So, there’s poaching still in areas of India, but when you look to areas such as Sumatra it just comes down to conserving habitat, like there’s very, very little forest left for the Sumatran tiger.

FOXLEY: So what role can zoos play in protecting the tiger from extinction?

LOWRY: The ultimate importance of zoos and the main roles zoos are playing at the moment when it comes to tiger conservation is really to maintain what we call insurance populations. So when you are talking about 3,200 tigers in full that exist in the wild, on the planet, unfortunately that day may come too soon when there’s none left out there in the wild and the only tigers people will be able to see may potentially be in zoos. But, hopefully one day, if we can get balance put back in check out there to save these habitats then zoos can play a much better role in being able to assist with field-based conservation.

STEINMETZ: Well the field project that I’m working on is one of these small populations rather than a stronghold. It has approximately 10 tigers, we’ve counted them through camera traps, that’s a very small population. However we know that they’re breeding in one part of the park. We have photographs of their cubs. This happens to be a place in the park with the highest remaining prey density. We’ve looked at the threats to tigers in this area. Unlike a lot of places the tigers are not directly poached, the main challenge is recovering prey as quickly as we can and tigers will follow. If prey become more dense, then tiger reproduction will increase and will be on the road to recovery. There’s three main threats, and they vary from place to place in these different countries and they also vary over historical timespan. Historically habitat loss was the main threat to tigers and still remains a major threat in certain areas. In some country’s such as Thailand, habitat is relatively a thing of the past and the main problem is directed tiger poaching in those forests and poaching of tiger prey. So the three main problems are habitat loss, tiger poaching and then poaching of their prey.

FOXLEY: Come 2022 the next year of the tiger what does Dr Steinmetz predict?

STEINMETZ: I see an increase in the tiger. We’re seeing it already in places where people are making concerted efforts, working together with governments and local people, establishing new partnerships in these landscapes and we’re seeing hopeful signs already. So, the next year of the tiger in 12 years, certainly I predict higher numbers.

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