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A few encouraging signs for Asia's endangered tigers

December 27, 2012|By Kenneth R. Weiss
  • The images of tiger cubs in the Russian far east are caught by a motion-activated camera trap.
The images of tiger cubs in the Russian far east are caught by a motion-activated… (Wildlife Conservation…)

Make no mistake. Tigers have gone extinct in Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Singapore, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the islands of Bali and Java in Indonesia and possibly in Korea. 

The iconic big cats remain endangered with extinction in other parts of their range, including China, Russia, Nepal, India and Thailand, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

A few years ago, 13 countries pledged to double the number of tigers from the base population of about 3,200 remaining in the wild. The overall population continues to hover at an all-time low due to the combined threats of habitat destruction, loss of prey and poaching for their pelts and body parts.

But a few places see some promising signs of a comeback, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In southwestern India, Wildlife Conservation Society researchers and others have identified 600 individual tigers in the mountainous Western Ghats region of Karnataka state. That's a major rebound attributed to government led anti-poaching patrols.

In Thailand, researchers have recorded a small but growing population of 50 tigers in the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Poaching seems to have ceased since last year's bust of a notorious poaching ring that resulted in prison sentences of up to five years for gang leaders.

In Russia, government officials are moving to close a loophole in the law that allowed poachers to claim they found a dead tiger when stopped in possession of hides or body parts that can fetch huge sums on the black market for traditional Chinese medicine. In October, Russia set aside the Central Ussuri Wildlife Refuge that provides a corridor for the Sikhote-Alin tiger population in Russia and the best tiger habit across China's boarder in Heilongjian province.

"Tigers are clearly fighting for their very existence, but it's important to know that there is hope," said Cristian Samper, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "While the news about tigers has been bleak, these recent developments clearly show how smart strategies and strong partnerships are ensuring tigers are saved for centuries to come."

ken.weiss@latimes.com

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