A Bengal army captain called Henry Shakespear published a memoir in 1860 urging young men to take up tiger-hunting lest they fall prey to “frivolous pursuits or effeminate pleasures”. This was a fateful attitude that has had terrible consequences. The largest of the big cats is imperilled. Little more than 3,000 tigers remain in the wild, compared with about 100,000 a century ago. Yet there is no need for fatalism. Human efforts to preserve the natural habitat are crucial to preserving bio-diversity. For tigers, these are having an effect.
A study published last week by scientists based at the University of Minnesota suggests that the erosion of tigers’ habitat is being checked, governments in tiger-range countries resolved in 2010, under a Global Tiger Action Plan, to double world population to more than 6,000 by 2022. The scientists’ analysis, based on satellite imagery, suggests that the target is feasible, provided that conservationists maintain their efforts to preserve the tigers’ environment.
Tigers were once widely distributed across Asia, from Bali to the Caspian Sea. But they need large areas in which to roam, hunt and breed, which makes them vulnerable. The trade in tiger parts can be vastly profitable for criminal gangs. The commonsense answer is proving effective: To maintain wildlife reserves, enforce stiff penalties and jail sentences for poaching, and maintain a trade ban on tiger parts. Encouragingly, this has had an effect most notably in India, a rapidly growing economy that began its own protection programme more than 40 years ago.
Tiger conservation may involve few absolute numbers of animals but is a huge achievement. Its progress indicates that the depredations of human activity, by poaching and urbanisation, can be reversed. And if it can be done for tigers then there is hope for other endangered species too.
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