Wildlife & Biodiversity

60% increase in overall tiger population, but habitat & biodiversity loss threatening Southeast Asian big cats

Countries submit population numbers from 2010-2022 to Global Tiger Recovery Program, CITES

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 10 November 2023
Photo: iStock

The wild tiger status is good in South Asia and Russia, but the picture in Southeast Asia is grim, posing challenges to the global tiger population recovery. Countries like India, which have committed to conserving the wild cat species, have submitted tiger population numbers from 2010-2022 to the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals.

Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) evolved under the Global Tiger Initiative in 2010. The St Petersburg Declaration in 2010 saw 13 tiger range countries commit to reversing the decline of the species population and double their numbers by 2022. The submissions were made under GTRP 2.0 and CITES, that aim to pave the way for tiger conservation from 2023-2034.

There has been an overall increase in the tiger population by 60 per cent, taking the number to 5,870. However, countries like Bhutan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Lao-PDR and Vietnam showed decline in tiger populations, making the situation “grim” in the Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) of Southeast Asia.

The situation is said to be challenging in the region due to widespread prey and tiger poaching combined with other lacunae such as inadequate patrolling, poor wildlife monitoring, forest loss for commercial needs, proximity to wildlife trade hubs and rapid infrastructure development resulting in fragmentation.

Poor monitoring and low investment in wildlife conservation are other reasons for drop in tiger populations.

The success of countries in South Asia like Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal including China and Russia in North East Asia is attributed to effective measures taken for habitat conservation and protection. Nepal has tripled the tiger population.

The submitted report warned, “Tiger population, which will be demographically and genetically viable, will not be sustained if steps are not taken now to reverse the current trend of habitat loss, prey depletion and tiger poaching.”

Habitat loss and fragmentation, along with depleting biodiversity due to anthropogenic reasons among others, is another concern raised threatening the tiger conservation. The report observed that loss of forest is a major factors across its ranges, with rapid decline in Southeastt Asia.

It cites that tiger habitat has seen degradation due to deforestation, infrastructure developed and illegal logging. The report emphasised the need for prey population augmentation in some patches.

It further states that the Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCL) need to be seen from the perspective of an ongoing human-environmental stress continuum.

“There are ongoing agro-pastoral as well as other human induced modifications in several TCLs. Such stressors impact the availability of welfare factors for major wild herbivores and thereby affecting the relative abundance of major carnivores, including the tiger,” it states.

The report states that if steps on tiger stressors are not taken, a majority of tiger population in Southeast Asia and small populations in parts of South Asia would be lost.

The grim situation demands a robust policy framework supported by political will, long-term availability of resources from the government.

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