A New York Times Dot Earth “Postcard” from Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, CEO of Panthera
I recently flew to Bangkok to join many of the world’s leading tiger experts, law enforcement specialists and some of my closest peers to assess the state of tigers and map out the conservation actions required to ensure the long term survival of the species.
Two years ago, I elected not to attend the International Forum for Tiger Conservation in St. Petersburg, an event at which grand promises, including a ‘new’ $330 million dollar pledge for tiger conservation, were made by international NGOs, governments, political leaders, celebrities and others (much of which had already been designated for conservation in tiger range states). Today, tiger populations are still hemorrhaging.
Inhabiting less than 7% of its historic range, the tiger has experienced the greatest range collapse of any large cat and is now one of the most endangered large mammals on earth. Numbering in the tens of thousands at the beginning of the 20th century, the most optimistic, current estimates of the world’s wild tiger population hovers below 3,200 individuals. Along with habitat loss and overhunting of tiger prey by humans, the most catastrophic tiger losses are caused by rampant poaching to feed the insatiable demand for tiger skins and other body parts that are sold on the illegal wildlife market throughout Southeast Asia.
To stop the bleeding, I, in collaboration with one of Panthera’s founding Board members, J. Michael Cline, and a group of the world’s foremost experts on tigers from the Wildlife Conservation Society launched the Tigers Forever program in 2006 to increase tiger numbers at key sites by 50% over ten years. Today, this program is driven by Panthera and Save the Tiger Fund in collaboration with a growing number of partner organizations. To achieve and evaluate our progress toward our ultimate goal, Panthera hosts a Tigers Forever conference each year, convening a suite of conservation partners from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna & Flora International, Zoological Society of London, Aaranyak, Nature Conservation Foundation, Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society and other organizations to pour over the most recent findings on tiger populations, share conservation strategies, milestones and challenges and strategically prioritize what is needed on the ground, now, to save tigers.
Local villagers supported by Panthera and the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society work in cooperation with the Andhra Pradesh State Forest Department to remove wire snares in Kawal Tiger Reserve, India.
Focusing heavily on law enforcement, measurement and monitoring, this year’s 6th Tigers Forever meeting has produced tremendous results from open, harsh and insightful discussions about our successes and failures. In Thailand’s Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, where I conducted the first field research on Indochinese tigers and other big cats in the 1990s, our partners at the Wildlife Conservation Society have found that building stronger, local informant networks and ramping up frontline enforcement patrols in vulnerable areas has significantly increased early detection and arrests for tiger poaching. These efforts are helping to grow local tiger numbers and will ultimately allow tigers to expand into the wider landscape.
In our constant search for improvement, the Tigers Forever team is assessing the impact of patrol leadership on efficacy, examining the success of foot versus motorized patrols, and outlining crucial logistics for anti-poaching activities, such as cooperative poaching raids made with multiple NGOs and government agencies to ensure jurisdiction coverage, apprehensions and convictions. These efforts must continue across Tigers Forever sites if we are to keep ahead of the threats and ensure a future for tigers in the wild.
In Northeast India’s Namdapha Tiger Reserve, long considered an ‘empty forest’ due to widespread poaching, Tigers Forever camera trap surveys carried out with Aaranyak and regional partners have also revealed the first ever photos of a tiger, left, along with new-record photos of over 30 mammal species. Panthera's local partner in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society, has worked with their Government partners to establish tiger reserve status for Kawaal Wildlife Sanctuary. In India’s Western Ghats, Panthera is working with Karnataka state officials and the Nature Conservation Foundation to reduce habitat fragmentation of tiger reserves and institute enhanced social security and welfare measures for forest guards.
This year, thousands of Panthera’s high-tech digital camera traps, now in the 4th generation, are being manufactured and deployed to Tigers Forever project sites across Asia to help identify, monitor and measure trends in the world’s remaining tiger populations.
Of all the big cats, we are undoubtedly in full crisis-mode when it comes to saving tigers. But hope remains for the species because of programs like Tigers Forever, which are constantly and vigorously improving conservation actions by maintaining transparency, supporting effective partnerships, using the best possible science and investing in the best people. Together we are determined to ensure that tigers thrive now, and long into the future.
To help tigers in the wild, please donate to
the Panthera-Save the Tiger Fund’s Tigers Forever Program.