Scientists and conservationists are to intensify their efforts this year to save one of Earth’s most powerful, and threatened, creatures: the tiger.
Biologists have placed Panthera tigris at the top of a list of 10 key animals facing extinction, which should become the focus for major conservation efforts in 2010, they say.
“This year has been designated the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations and so we have created a list of 10 critically important endangered animals that we believe will need special monitoring over the next 12 months,” said Diane Walkington, head of species programme for the WWF in the UK.
Animals on the WWF list include the polar bear and the giant panda.
“This year will also be the Chinese Year of the Tiger, and so we have put it at the top of our list,” added Walkington. “It will have special iconic importance.”
Down by 95 pc
Over the past century, the world’s population of tigers has been reduced by 95 per cent as a result of hunting and poaching for their body parts, which are used in traditional Asian medicine. There are only around 3,200 tigers left on the planet.
Of its nine main sub-species, three – the Bali, Caspian and Java tigers – are now extinct, while there has been no reliable sighting of a fourth, the South China tiger, for 25 years.
This leaves the Bengal, Amur, Indochinese, Sumatran and Malayan tigers, the numbers of which, with the exception of the Bengal and Indochinese, have been reduced to a few hundred per species.
In recent years, conservationists have achieved some noticeable success in halting the decline in tiger numbers. For example, they helped to halt hunting of the Amur tiger, which lives in eastern Russia. Its numbers had dropped to a few dozen. Today there are around 500 Amur tigers, thanks to conservation measures introduced by the Russian government.
“It showed we could help the tiger,” said Walkington.
However, over the past two or three years, levels of tiger poaching have risen again while habitat problems have added to the stress on tiger numbers. For example, sea level rises – caused by climate change – are now threatening the mangrove homes of tigers in the Sunderbans regions of Bangladesh and India.
Hence the international decision to redouble efforts to save the tiger this year. “Of course, there are thousands of other species on the endangered list,” added Walkington. “However, there is particular importance in selecting a creature such as the tiger for special attention.
“To save the tiger, we have to save its habitat – which is also home to many other threatened species.
“So if we get things right and save the tiger, we will also save many other species at the same time.”