The more Asians migrate to cities, the more it will help tigers, says study

Researchers from a prominent non-profit feel that Asia's increasing urbanisation and rapid demographic transition could mean that tiger range areas would be more free of people

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 07 February 2019
Credit: Getty Images Credit: Getty Images

Asia's increasing rate of urbanisation and demographic transition could aid in conserving wild tigers on the continent, says a new study. 

Prior to the 20th century, more than 100,000 wild tigers lived in Asia. Today, there are between 3,000-4,000. However, during the same period, Asia’s human population has grown from 790 million to over four billion.

In 2010, 57 million people lived in tiger range areas. However, by 2100, depending on population trends, as few as 40 million people or as many as 106 million people could co-habit with tigers. This would depend on the direction that the economy, education, migration and urbanisation policy take in various countries in the continent.

“Urbanisation and the subsequent human demographic transition is arguably the most important historical trend shaping the future of conservation. How that transition plays out is not pre-determined. Rather, it depends on the policy decisions that governments, and the societies they represent, take with respect to fundamental matters such as urban governance, education, economic reform and the movement of people and trade goods. These decisions matter for us and tigers too,” says Eric W Sanderson from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a prominent wildlife non-profit based out of the Bronx Zoo in New York City.

Sanderson has co-authored the study, titled Implications of the shared socioeconomic pathways for tiger (Panthera tigris) conservation. It was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

The study’s findings are based on the theory of demographic transition which postulates that human populations tend to peak, then go into decline.  

The researchers found that human populations in tiger range areas would be lowest provided such areas have the greatest levels of urbanisation and education.

If poverty is alleviated, girls are educated, and sustainable cities are built, it could be the best bet for conservation, the authors noted.

"The ongoing economic development and demographic transition underway in Asia, should not be viewed only as a problem by conservationists," noted tiger expert, K Ullas Karanth, who has been associated with WCS, told Down To Earth. "While undoubtedly negative impacts such as infrastructure development and intensifying market pressure on forest product exploitation will be clear negatives, the shift away from rural to urban occupations, accompanied by cultural shifts and rural land use changes can potentially benefit tigers and other wildlife. It depends on how intelligently we manage the transitions, rather than decrying it as a whole sale disaster. This paper highlights some of those issues," he added.

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