The global plight of the tiger, the fact that they are virtually and functionally extinct in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, and the reality that they still face grave dangers due to habitat loss and poaching has been buried under celebratory media headlines.
The Truth About Tigers
By Natalie Kyriacou, Director of My Green World
On April 12, a three-day Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation assembled in New Delhi to pledge support for wild tigers and review global strategies to address tiger endangerment. Delegates from 13 tiger-range countries met at Vigyan Bhawan convention centre, where they reasserted their pledge to the Global Tiger Recovery Programme (GTRP), which was built on the commitment of all 13 National Tiger Recovery Priorities (NTRPs) to double tiger populations by 2022.
However, just two days prior to the conference, WWF-International (WWF) and Global Tiger Forum (GTF) released a report claiming that the global tiger count was on the rise for the first time in a century.
The media went into a frenzy and social media erupted with the good news. And yet, in the background of these global celebrations, many experts were questioning the validity of the statement released by WWF and GTF, wondering how such data had been obtained. The WCS released a statement of concern by tiger biologists condemning the announcement, which said, “We do not find this report and its implications scientifically convincing.” (Read the full statement here).
So what really happened? Was the Statement False?
Jay Mazoomdaar, in an article in The Indian Express, said “The claim is little more than a mockery of both science and sensibility. It is like concluding that the number of stars in the sky has gone up just because the invention of better telescopes has led to the discovery of faraway, hitherto invisible, celestial bodies.”
The joint report by WWF and GTF would have been simply laughable, says Mazoomdaar, if it weren’t for the timing. Not only did this hasty announcement come just days ahead of the Third Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, which was host to a variety of high profile attendees, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but it also came at a time when tigers are faced with unprecedented threats. India’s rapid development has affected vast areas of land where tigers once roamed (tigers have disappeared from 40% of the forests they roamed until 10 years ago), conservation organisations have had their activities diluted by pressure from governments, while Cambodia’s tigers have become functionally extinct, with tigers in Lao PDR, Vietnam and China on the very brink of extinction.
The timing of this news triggered undue celebration in the midst of an important meeting which was to decide the tigers future. This was a time for serious action, and somber discussion about the plight of the tiger – not celebration. As Mazoomdaar says, “This is certainly not the time for an orchestrated ‘All is well’ chant. And that is why this toast is in rather poor taste. Tigers are not out of the woods yet.”
So what is the global tiger population?
The elusive tiger habituates some of the most remote and hostile terrain on earth, and experts say that we simply do not, and may never know, exactly how many tigers there are in the wild.
My Green World’s partner charity, TigerTime, says: “Elusive by nature and often covering vast territories it is notoriously difficult to confirm accurate numbers for wild tigers. While new technology is helping to create a more accurate picture definitive population counts will remain elusive too”.
The new global figure of 3,890 announced by WWF is an amassed sum of what each tiger country has claimed as its tiger population. Mazoomdaar says it has no benchmark for accuracy, as different countries use different counting methods. The 2010 global tiger population of 3,200, he says, was, in actual fact, only a guesstimate. While tiger numbers may indeed have risen, it is more probable that there are more tigers in the wild than previously estimated. The global plight of the tiger, the fact that they are virtually and functionally extinct in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, and the reality that they still face grave dangers due to habitat loss and poaching has been buried under celebratory media headlines.
“Whether tiger numbers are at 3,900 or 3,200, this is a tiny number in terms of a sustainable global population of wild tigers. Population numbers of this level are by no means a cause for celebration. It is vital that we continue to keep the plight of the wild tiger in the headlines – we must not let people forget that the tiger remains in crisis,” says TigerTime.
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